Handwritten letters are intimate. It’s in this realm, of peering into someone’s soul through pen strokes, that Denver-based conceptual artist Scott Young organized his latest artistic endeavor — an exhibit called Always Forever Yours. It’s an ode to the handwritten love letter, an ode to the ways that lead us to better understand someone and an ode to the art of love itself. It’s an exploration in passions, energy and light. In line with Young’s other work, there’s space for the exuberant, the unrequited and the heartbroken.
In Always Forever Yours, everyone is invited to write and contribute their own love letter to the exhibit. All of these add to one wall, where red strings connect them in a crazy-theory-on-a-bulletin-board kind of way. But the exhibit is more than a drop-off for pages from the heart. Surrounding the central theme is a variety of added programming, interactive installations, movie screenings, personal growth sessions and, of course, original neon artwork created by Young.
The most stunning piece is the wall of letters. At three points, neon signs made by Young interrupt the mosaic of handwritten notes, reading “you can’t repeat the past,” “tu es le raison d’etre” and “yes always yes.” The letters themselves are written on a variety of papers. Many are made in-house (and part of the exhibit is a letter-writing station provided by local stationery boutique Wordshop) but some have been sent to Young from places as far away as Seattle.
There’s a sense of continuity between Young’s work in this show and previous exhibitions he’s displayed — including the first one in this same gallery space at Dairy Block. Whether you consider his work romantic or cathartic, it brings about a similar feeling — release. It’s also about exposing that feeling, peeling back the layers of context, of age, of race, of socioeconomic status. Anyone can look at one of Young’s neon pieces and understand the raw emotive state he’s trying to convey. For Always Forever Yours, Young asked others to articulate the most common emotive state out there — love.
“That’s why I make work about it — everyone has experienced love,” Young explained. “You can hate it and still understand my work… actually it might be better to hate it.” He laughed. Reading through the letters on the wall, it becomes clear that people feel evenly split between praising lovers or love in general or expressing sadness, betrayal, longing.
Other pieces of note include an installation created by the Nuvey Collective where you leave a message in one phone and listen to other people’s messages on another phone. It “hits all the pillars of a minimalist work of art” Young pointed out. With three elements — phones, recorders and playback audio — it packs a serious emotional punch. Even when the voices are in different languages, the tone and intimacy of hearing it through the phone raises the hairs on the back of your neck.
Lucia Visuals created the projections of embracing couples that dance across the letter-strewn wall, which will eventually look more solid as more letters are added to the collection. The “makeout room” is another addition by Lucia Visuals — composed of two walls of mirrors and a third wall of dizzying projected visuals — offering a womb-like chamber with just the right amount of mood lighting to share a sensual kiss. It’s tucked away on the first level behind a curtain of reflective ribbons.
Of course, lighting is a tantamount aspect of any of Young’s work, whether he is creating art or curating it. Another artist on display at Always Forever Yours, Jackie Gretzinger, embraced the challenge of expressing love through light with an installation of Edison bulbs and a floor-to-ceiling handwritten letter called You Turn Me On. “How do I express sexiness with light?” Gretzinger asked. The bulbs dim and brighten as you stand beneath them, reading her lustful words. At first, the changing light is barely noticeable, but the longer you stay, the more you notice. The crescendoed effect follows the path of the letter itself, and in the end, you feel almost satisfied.
Throughout the rest of the 3,400-feet gallery space, you will find other artists on display that either collaborated with Young or inspired him with their own creations. They range from novice digital artists to worldwide celebrities. In that latter category, the piece in question is a limited edition lithograph by Ed Ruscha — and although it was offered on loan to the show by its current owner and not Ruscha himself, there’s a connection with the Denver Art Museum and a story of forbidden love behind it that makes it a slam-dunk with this show.
For the duration of the exhibition, local boutiques Wordshop, Retro Flora and Ruby Jean Patisserie will offer gifts, cards, flowers and sweets to purchase for the love of your life — whether that’s someone else or yourself is your choice to make. In each of their own ways, the owners of these boutiques add to the theme of the exhibit because they make their items with love, with passion. Young wanted this exhibit to showcase “some of my favorite businesses or artists or techies in Denver.” The result is a welcoming space that resonates with all the warmth of a neon tube, and then some.
If you visit the show, go prepared with a pre-written love letter or leave enough time to write one while you’re there (materials provided). That is the ultimate collaboration Young is hoping for, a gathering place for all the diverse perspectives about the universal feeling of love. He relishes the thought so much that he’s considering making a full-time dedicated spot for the safekeeping of love letters in the future.
When Young announced the concept for this show, he never gave a format for writers to follow. Yet many of the letters end with the signature “Always forever yours” — a poignant happenstance. “There’s something so Paris-locks-on-the-bridge about this,” he said, “the anonymity is beautiful.”
If you’re interested in dropping off a letter of your own, Always Forever Yours will be open from February 13 through 28 (only Thursday to Sunday) from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is located at 1821 Blake Street. Enter through the Dairy Block Alley.
For a full schedule of events, including movie screenings and more, go here.