A Sneak Peek at the Artists Projecting Animated Murals Onto Walls in RiNo

An ode to real love and sunsets, a crystal cave in Colorado, a representation of the architecture of RiNo — these themes and more will be explored at the third annual Side Stories in RiNo in late February and early March this year. Using buildings in the RiNo district as a backdrop, artists create site-specific and temporary works of art that can only be viewed once the sun goes down. And the only way to watch them is to explore the neighborhood on foot, hunting down the silent videos (until you tune into an app that lets you listen to artist commentary and soundtracks on your phone).

As the festival evolves year after year, we’ve been lucky to see a smattering of local artists work in the digital sphere in a way that isn’t typically explored. The buildings and walls used as backdrops are vastly different from perfectly seamless screens and their own texture and dimension add complexity to the process and finished effect. But, with each year, the artists learn from one another and from advancing techniques in the field, leading to an ever more polished outcome.

This year, eight local artists are participating, with a few returning from previous years. Although the films all vary, there’s a major slant in one of two directions — either Colorado-inspired motifs or abstract conceptual footage. This fork-in-the-road setting betrays the field of digital art on a larger scale — either it needs to be directly relatable to a larger audience the way movies and TV are, or it disengages itself from that need entirely. But especially for a festival in its infant stages, this mixture allows for novice viewers to experience more than they bargain for — which is a good thing.

In the Colorado-inspired section, viewers can look forward to films that explore or adapt topics like the diverse landscape of the state or RiNo’s own industrial history. Laurel Cohen will take on the latter, creating fictional RiNo monsters influenced by the evolution of the neighborhood, and created by locally found and recycled items — like an artificial Christmas tree discarded after the holidays.

“Scotland has the Loch Ness monster, Nepal has the Yeti… I was curious about what fantastical Creature sightings could occur in RiNo. How might [the] environment inform the Creatures’ physical forms?” Cohen remarked. In the film, the Creatures are clothed in costumes made without sewing anything together.

Xadie James Antonio approached another aspect of the industrial history of the area by creating a video based on trains, called Spectre of The Locomotive. “I lived in the Globeville and Elyria neighborhoods for 10 years and the train yards surrounded me. I find a lot of comfort and nostalgia in these huge machines howling and whirring through the night,” Antonio reminisced. Their video includes little Easter eggs for those keen enough to catch them (hint: look for an actual specter) and will no doubt please anyone else who shares a love for trains.

In Tom Ludlow‘s The Crystal Factory, he found inspiration in the Fairy Caves of Glenwood Springs. Instead of representing the crystal caves as is, or in realistic film, Ludlow integrated the “gritty structural surface” that he was using as a canvas — the RiNo cement towers — into an abstract portrayal of crystal chambers. The juxtaposition “blends the natural with the industrial,” as he put it.

“My goal is to inspire a moment of natural clarity in peoples’ modern city lives. I’d love if viewers found a quick moment of calm and peace while experiencing my piece,” Ludlow said.

That sentiment, of finding solace in natural imagery, is also explored in Natalie Einterz‘s piece, Colorado Peeks. Since Einterz moved to Colorado in 2012, she hasn’t stopped being gobsmacked by the state’s scenery, especially the mountains. She knows that she shares that with many other residents (life-long or newbies) and wanted to make a film as an ode to being outdoors. During the loop, all of the scenes of scenery include an extra element to look out for — where eyes appear to look back at the viewer.

Although this is Einterz’s first time in Side Stories on her own, for the last two years she has worked with Studio Hippo, leading to a knack for knowing what the viewers will like and an admiration of the festival format. “I love that RiNo has this event, and it’s such a fun way to give video artists a chance to make their own ‘murals’,” she remarked.

In Annette Isham‘s piece, a feminine orb will traverse across a Colorado landscape, offering viewers the perfect segue into the realm of abstract digital art. Isham is known in other areas of the country for years of work in the photographic or digital realms but only started showing work in Denver last year. Her current oeuvre includes several videos that turn natural settings into kaleidoscopic landscapes, an illusion that is beautiful and unsettling.

“I was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in Denver,” Isham said. “My Side Stories film, Unfolded, works to explore associations with geography, more specifically, how a woman of mixed race appropriates the masculine myth of the American West.”

Further in the abstract realm is Phillip Faulkner, an artist who has used digital tools in various ways since the early 2000s. “I will create a site-specific work in which the composition has been inspired by the architecture,” Faulkner explained. “My practice remains the same as with any project. I gather images, footage, and marks (both self-made and appropriated) and use collage techniques.” In the video for Side Stories, Faulkner asks viewers to step away from finding a narrative and simply enjoy it as a visual experience.

Luckily, it doesn’t get any more abstract than that this year, and the final two artists created videos that should be remarkable and relatable to every viewer.

In Kendra Fleischman‘s animation, the elegance of silhouettes and shadows will come to life through handmade designs. Fleischman is a talented multi-media artist who excels in reimagining the use of digital art tools. In her video for Side Stories, she’s cut out silhouettes and shadows from black paper, embracing the DIY or handmade component but juxtaposing it with the highly technical aspects of animation and projection. The magical work will leave you with a smile and a few questions about how she does it. In the video below, Fleischman’s The Little Chapel of Our Holy Motherboard, which was also displayed at Understudy in Denver a few years ago, shows her remarkable instinct for mesmerizing footage.

For Daniel Fickle and Ben McKinney, the hours of sunset marked the perfect metaphor to tackle the beauty of a loving relationship. The duo filmed real couples interacting and sharing stories in a silent film kind of way, bringing happiness to the screen through organic interactions and IRL love that the viewers witness through action and expression rather than with words.

“We experience plenty of rough moments to make relationships work. The reality can get ugly, but just like a stunning sunset, there are moments that are so beautiful and make it all worth it. I want to capture those raw, vulnerable moments as a reminder to myself and others that the hardships are worth enduring,” Fickle explained.

If you go, make sure to take the time to stop by each of the eight walls. The videos are played on loops so if you don’t catch the beginning, just wait a moment and you’ll see it soon enough. Be prepared to experience a range of emotions, not the least of which is the undeniable thrill of living in the moment and seeing something that will never play on the same building again.

Side Stories will be on view February 28 through March 6 after dark in various locations in RiNo. Check the map and more information here.