Shades of white

BMoCA exhibit explores diversity in the community

"Wishing Wells" by Seth Wulsin
Photo by Dave Shults

What does diversity mean? There are the obvious diversities — cultural, racial, economic — and the not-so-obvious — intellectual, political, spiritual.

Should a place — a school, a town, a city — strive for diversity? And if so, what does that entail?

Anyone who has lived in Boulder for more than a few days has heard the term “too white,” as in, “This city is too white.” Yes, there are a lot of white people here (87 percent percent according to the U.S. Census), but why are large groups of white people in general bad? And would throwing in some people of color really fix the issue? Is it an issue that needs to be fixed?

The “too white” statement that many of us hear regularly has less to do with skin color and more to do with guilt — the guilt of unrecognized privileges.

It’s a privilege to own a home, a car, a computer. It’s a privilege to go to college, yoga, coffee shops. It is a privilege to live right next to beautiful mountains, to have the time to bike to work or, even better, work from home.

And yes, it’s a privilege to go to art museums.

Questions about diversity haven’t stopped the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art from trying to address the issue.

From June 23 to Sept. 11, BMoCA is exhibiting BIODOME: An Experiment in Diversity. The show is based on the 2007 Community Dialogue survey taken by Boulder residents that revealed a value for an outdoor active lifestyle and a concern about elitists and intolerance. Four artists were selected for a two-week residency during which they learned about the Boulder community and developed works based on the hopes and concerns brought up in the survey. The show addresses three of Boulder’s most popular attributes — technology, sports and spirituality — then attempts to address the overall topic of diversity through those aspects.

Many of us have the luxury of Internet access here in Boulder, and it becomes even more obvious when we step into Laleh Mehran and Chris Coleman’s “W3fi.” The entire front gallery features work on our interconnections in the virtual world, including a topographic table of Boulder County with a digital display of wifi use, cell phone towers and mobile data use.

“Boulder is a huge technology hub,” Mehran says. “It’s the perfect space to start this movement.”

The movement is about changing our views from the S3LF to the W3F, Mehran adds.

“It’s a shift from individual narcissism we culturally have adopted to a more human narcissism that pays attention to how everyone around us is affected,” Mehran says.

It’s about balance — for every couple of tweets about one’s self there should be a tweet acknowledging or showing kindness to someone else. Coleman and Mehran believe it’s time we all start respecting each other in both real and virtual space.

They make that point by using open-source programs like Processing and Arduino in many pieces.

“Hundreds of people work together to create the tool,” Mehran explains, “but then we use the tool to program the parts of the show.”

This open sourcing highlights their ability to work collaboratively — not just with each other, but with an entire community. There is beauty not just with the aesthetics on the wall, but also with the never-quite-complete process, with the ever-changing spaces of our current technology.

“Diversity is heavy,” Gustavo Artigas says. “That’s why I try to balance it with playful situations.”

The execution of Artigas’ “Relay (Endless)” comes off as simplistic; it’s a minimal installation, one racetrack built around the gallery space. The concept behind “Relay,” though, is much more elaborate.

“It’s about running together, not from each other,” Artigas says.

Boulder residents (and visitors) have the opportunity to “pass the baton” and keep the circle of connection going. “Relay” participants write what they think diversity means and give their own solutions, which are then shared on the wall. (It’s interesting to note the numerous definitions of diversity posted after the show had only been open a few days.) “Relay” opens a dialogue and helps reveal areas that need improving while allowing the community to “play” and learn together.

In “Wishing Wells,” Seth Wulsin’s mirrored icosahedrons are remarkable in both design and philosophy. Twenty sides symbolize the water element, and just like water, the two pieces reflect and overlap moments in time. The pieces resonate an inner space that connects people who are there with those who were there before and with those who come after. The icosahedrons reveal that though there may be a physical outer limit (the body) there is unlimited internal expansion (the spirit). With the fragments infinitely reflecting and bouncing off of each other, one feels a sense of the complexities we individually and collectively possess.

Correction: The photograph that accompanied the article “Shades of White” in our July 7 issue was incorrectly attributed. Credit for the photograph should have gone to Dave Shults. Boulder Weekly regrets the error.