In Highlands Ranch — a four-decade-old planned community designed for families that's sometimes considered a hotbed for swingers — a bike cop rides past a twelve-foot-tall blue robot standing watch over the Douglas County Sheriff Highlands Ranch Substation. The officer looks flummoxed: Where on God's green earth did that thing come from?
He pedals over to a van, where Chris Mora, a thin, soft-spoken artist with a gentle disposition and hair tied up in massive locks, watches nervously as he chats with two of his collectors, a couple he calls friends.
The trio looks tired, having spent the better part of a hot morning putting up the sculpture and wondering what the deputies in the building will think of the grumpy ’bot. Surrounded by a tactical bag full of tools, a welding mask and other sundry items, the three look a bit like undercovers fresh off a mission: sweaty, disheveled and ready to go home.
No doubt Mora — who is hesitant to talk about the intention of the work — is as befuddled as the cop: How on God's green earth did my grumpy robot that was built to stand outside Cabal Gallery wind up adjacent to a police station and American flags? How does this site influence how people will interpret the piece?
The cop asks if the three of them put up the sculpture, whether it's involved with the nearby school. They explain that it has nothing to do with STEM but is instead part of Art Encounters, Douglas County's Scientific and Cultural Facilities District-funded public-art program.
The officer chuckles. "It's cool," he says of the robot, and pedals away.
When Mora applied for the Art Encounters program, he had no clue where his sculpture would end up. When he was told it would be outside a sheriff's station, he worried what his friends, the community and officers themselves would think. Would the piece be viewed as a criticism of the militarization of law enforcement? Would the deputies think he was calling them robots? Or would he be slammed for making cops seem safe and friendly?
Now that the piece is installed and fits neatly into the landscape, Mora's mostly just curious as to how the public will react — if the public reacts at all.
Sara Walla, the senior marketing and special projects manager of the Highlands Ranch Community Association, curates the community's Art Encounters program for the Highlands Ranch Cultural Association. Her take is that the piece is a fun-loving addition to the community during tense times.
"There are a lot of different sentiments regarding police," she explains. "And we just worked with those county sheriffs, because we thought this is a really positive way to promote the sheriff's department in our community and a great way to partner with them. So a good way to, you know, have some positive connotations with visiting the sheriff's substation."
While Mora's massive, frowning robot might not elicit positivity from some viewers and could even evoke the horrifying notion of a techno-fascist police state, the hope is that because it's essentially a large-scale toy, people will find it charming and upbeat.
Ultimately, of course, the meaning is in the eye of the beholder. Pro-cop? Anti-cop? Just a big toy? Decide for yourself. The piece, which is for sale, will be up for a year at 9250 Zotos Drive in Highlands Ranch, until it is rotated out in 2022 for a new work.
"We encourage people to go out and see the artwork," Walla says. "The robot was just a great addition there that the officers love. They were all satisfied when we were installing it. ...They were very excited about it. And Chris even painted it kind of a deep-blue color that's often associated with police, and I actually think it's one of the colors of the Douglas County Sheriff. So it just kind of ties in there. And it's a great addition to their station."
For more information about the artist, visit Chris Mora Robots online.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.