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Ana Penalba is re-creating Denver with kids and spare parts at PlatteForum

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Ana Penalba is a thinker. She hails from Spain, but now calls New York home. Currently she is the artist in residence at PlatteForum, and working hard with a group of middle-school students to debut a very cerebral experience on December 12 at the studio.

Gaining a residency is a great accomplishment for any artist, according to PlatteForum founder Judy Anderson. "It's a benchmark, and it's really important for our residencies that the artists also connect with the community," she says. And Penalba has definitely connected.

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Penalba is an architect, urban planner and artist. Her artwork is very technical and conveys the message of sustainability. For herself, she does not see a delineation between architecture and art. "It's a tool for thinking," she says. "So I guess when I'm doing art, I'm thinking in a scale. When I do architecture, it's another scale, and when I'm doing urban planning, it's all a matter of scales. It's the discipline of thinking. It's my personal fighting as well. I always try to define myself as one thing, and I'm always trying to discover what is that one thing. But lately I realized that it's just thinking."

Penalba is sharing her experience at PlatteForum with youth from the Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation. While it is the first time she has worked with kids, it's going well, she says: "It's not only about teaching them, but them teaching you."

Just last week she learned how to create video and animated GIFs to elevate her art.

Penalba had made a contraption with a couple of glass bottles connected with bicycle gears and wires. The sculpture represented her brain, and she knew that it needed to come alive somehow -- so she learned how to make videos on the computer, to transform it to life. "I'm not coming here just to make my amazing idea," she notes. "I'm coming here to discover things."

The brain project was the first one she did with her students; they all made models of what they thought their brain looked like. Penalba encourages them to take things that already exist and reinterpret them, which led to the big project the students are now taking on.

"Me being an architect and having all these kids available to use their creative minds, we thought it would be super-cool to make a model of Denver, representing their wishes," explains Penalba. She wants the kids to realize that the city belongs to them, and that they should have a say in how public spaces can be made accessible to everyone. One of the students wants to make a model of Sports Authority Field that includes TV screens on the outside, so everyone can enjoy the energy of a Broncos game. "We want the children to understand they have the right of thinking about their cities, to be an active agent on the future of cities," she says. "I think that's something you should learn as a child."

To start the project, the floor of the studio was taped off as the blueprint so kids could reimagine our city using milk cartons, empty cans and cereal boxes, which the community is asked to donate to PlatteForum. After the exhibition, Penalba hopes the reinterpreted replica of Denver will go on display at DIA.

When not working with the kids, Penalba is busy with her own projects. She enjoys taking whatever she can get her hands on and then transforming those pieces into an entirely new creation. In fact, she says she could use any spare parts that people have lying around, if they'd like to see them repurposed into a work of art.

"There is a message I want to transmit about something," says Penalba, "First of all, in how to build cities and how sustainability is really needed in the future. I don't think we need to keep building more buildings; there are already enough buildings to host the population we have. We need to start thinking about how we can re-configurate, instead of destroying and build something else. I take the objects and change the scale and the meaning and convert it into something."

Penalba will be learning and teaching at PlatteForum until December 12, when the exhibition will open. The show will be up through December 23. For more information about the residency and donating to the program, visit the PlatteForum website.

Penalba is also documenting her residency, which you can view here.


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