Halloween is usually about becoming someone else — donning a costume to disguise your true identity or to attract attention (we’re looking at you, sexy-cat-costume-wearers). But one artist collective in Denver is turning those typical motivations around this October with a residency at Understudy that urges people to fall in love with their inner “monsters.”

The group, Secret Love Collective, only started last year but has been creating site-specific happenings that are aimed at actively changing the status quo about the rigidity of categorizing art. What they create isn’t just sculptural, or visual, or auditory, or performative — it’s all of those and more. Their newest installation, near the Convention Center, is called Spooky Valentine and it mixes the chance for someone to embody a different identity from Halloween with the chance to spread love from Valentine’s Day to create an entirely new celebration. And yes, costumes are still a big part of it.

“It’s an opportunity to think beyond the commercial aspects of each holiday,” one of the artists in the collective, Frankie Toan, explained. “What parts of yourself do you not typically love or share with the world? How can you highlight that or send a Valentine to that? It goes with [Secret Love Collective’s] ethos of always trying to celebrate and explore all parts of ourselves and others. Spooky Valentine is a quirky, campy play on that and the monsters within us.

Throughout the month, Secret Love Collective’s installation invites people to enter the space and be creative. That could mean taking a slew of selfies, crafting a spooky-themed Valentine, participating in an “Ego Slayer” yoga class, using the nicely-lit area to work on a Halloween costume or engaging in meaningful conversation with strangers. The point is to tune into those parts of yourself and others that are usually considered “scary” — flaws, mistakes, insecurities, judgments, vulnerability — and give them a warm embrace (or a handmade Valentine). The collective is made up of eight artists — Frankie Toan, Piper Rose, Katy Batsel, Lares Feliciano, Colby Phillip Graham, Genevieve Waller, Katy Zimmerman and Lauren Zwicky —  any of whom you might run into if you stop by the space.

“We don’t just try to make art together but also make artistic spaces that harbor community. We are all queer-identified artists and there is a lack of queer art organizing in the city so we developed [as an artist collective] to fill that and also to have fun,” Toan commented.

For the rest of the month, Spooky Valentine will host a few scheduled events, on top of their regular hours (Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.). Starting on Monday, October 15 at 6 p.m., with the “Mystery Date” night, Spooky Valentine will turn into a live dating game, where all contestants must dress in a costume that portrays their inner “creature.” Contestants can be anyone, just as long as they dress up, and the group will be divided in two with half behind a curtain answering questions posed by the other half. Can you “fall in love” with someone else’s inner “creature?” Of course, an actual date won’t be required after participating, but it definitely will be suggested.

A selection of additional costume pieces

The following Monday, October 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. the area will be converted into a dance party like no other. Coined In Bed By 10,” this dance party is catered to those who want to have a cathartic experience on the dance floor and still wake up for work on Tuesday morning. As Piper Rose, another artist in the collective, put it “I love Monday because everything is in a state of full potential [for the rest of the week]. I also love to dance. Clubs that open at 10 p.m. boggle me, all I want to do is get off of work, shred on the dance floor and be in bed by 10 p.m. This is all about your own personal therapeutic dance time.

The climax to the October residency for Secret Love Collective will be a Halloween Parade — and everyone is invited. Also happening on a Monday (October 29), the parade will start and end at Understudy but will take to the streets in between. People are encouraged to come before 6 p.m. to work on their costume — with some help from the artists in the collective and a limited supply of additional costume items —  before stepping outside the safe enclave and into the public sphere.“When you put on a costume, you get to decide that you’re stepping out to be perceived as that [costume], rather than not wearing a costume and having others think you are wearing one. This is kind of a way to control that feeling,” said Toan. Aside from the obvious correlation of a costume parade and Halloween, this final event also epitomizes the underlying thesis of Spooky Valentine — the practice of self-love and the acceptance of others’ self-love should be celebrated.

“A big part of [the parade] is also using the public space. [Secret Love Collective is] a collective that has no permanent space to work in. We have studios, and basements and we have cars,” added Toan. “But to me, the parade is important because we are using that public space. It’s uncontrolled in that way, but also a reclamation of space. Our art is not just confined to a gallery or a workspace or a studio, it’s in the world with us.”

Spooky Valentine is open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Understudy, 890 C 14th Street until October 29, 2018.

All photography by Cori Anderson

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