Mile High ArtWork

(Article from "Acuman College of Arts and Science" - 2012)


Wesley Heiss, assistant professor of design in the department of art, architecture and design, has teamed with fellow artist Marek Walczak, to produce a series of 20 pieces of art to be strategically placed down a 12-block stretch of 14th Street in downtown Denver.


With his partner he produces permanent, public artworks. The artists have been commissioned by the city to create treasure hunt of hidden artworks meant to be part of the environment and blend into the surroundings. Cast in zinc, objects include a wide range of iconic viewing and recording devices, such as a Polaroid, a Sony TV, and a spyglass. Each piece is attached to a piece of existing infrastructure and keyed to specific view of the neighborhood. Holding a prototype of the spyglass, he says the piece will be aimed at a vacant parking lot.


“When you look through it, you’ll see a building that was torn down, a historic building, put back in place.” 


The pieces will depict a variety of things, from famous events that took place in the neighborhood, to humorous juxtapositions, to illustrations of possible future uses of the street. Each piece will include a QR tag, so visitors can use smart phones to link to a website where they can read background information about what that particular story depicts.


Heiss is working with the Denver Historical Society to determine appropriate stories for each piece and established a website where community members can submit ideas. An area housing the convention center and the opera house, Heiss’ work will become an integral part of a neighborhood experiencing a renaissance. Each piece brings a new set of challenges as Heiss navigates government regulations and community desires.


“We have to recalibrate and adapt, negotiate and address everyone’s concerns. And we’re working with technology that is sometimes new to us. It’s scary pushing the bounds of what we know, but that’s the fun of it. I was trained as an architect, but this type of art offers a tremendous breadth of opportunities.“


“Part of the fun of these projects is to come up with a new technology to use every time. It was a difficult site and we didn’t automatically know how to approach it. The idea came from a conversation we had about how to create interesting sightlines down the street. As a collector of old technology we eventually gravitated towards what cool things you could look through and how could we misuse them.”


The project is scheduled to be complete in spring 2013.


Heiss has created other works for the city. In January 2011, he opened Thought Balloons, a large black glass frame placed in the on the north wall of the long entry hallway. Playfully interactive, the artwork inserts software generated text based dialogue over the heads of people seated on the frame. When someone sits down on the bench, which is covered in black glass, a thought balloon pops over their head suggesting what they are thinking. If two people sit on the bench thought balloons pop up, creating conversations between them. The texts are updated by the community who can provide suggestions for dialogue text on a website established for the project.


“I try to have a sense of humor in my work. It’s playful and easily accessible, and it needs to makes sense to the people who live in the area. For me the most satisfying thing is to see people using and enjoying the things I have made.”