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R. Tyler Christopherson Skewers Gentrification at Good Thieves Press

R. Tyler Christopherson’s upcoming exhibit, The Good ol’ Days, celebrates – and complicates – our collective desire and nostalgia for “good times”: periods of comfort, security and satisfaction that may exist more in our imaginations than in reality. Christopherson will employ an interactive mixed-media installation to evoke and link three idealized worlds — childhood, the Old West and Denver’s gentrified future — in the show that opens Saturday, March 28, at Good Thieves Press co-operative, where Christopherson is an active officer.

To recall the carefree time of childhood, Christopherson has constructed a number of toy-like objects that “put the viewer in the position of a child,” he explains; as the viewer interacts, hands-on, with them, they serve as a “reminder of joyful memories, feelings and experiences tied to being young.” Some of the objects have a vintage, Old West flavor, tapping into a broader imagery that expresses both childhood adventure and old-timey comfort.

Christopherson, who earned his BFA in printmaking from Metropolitan State University, will also display intaglio-etched prints on the walls. Intaglio printing is a technique that incises a printing plate with an image, fills those impressions with ink, and then presses the plate onto a surface. Like the interactive pieces, some of the prints also carry Old West themes, while the very method Christopherson uses heralds from an earlier time.

Despite his genuine desire to generate warm feelings and recollections, Christopherson is well-aware that nostalgia is far from innocent, and that our desire for the “good ol’ days” is often based on fiction and myth. This becomes clear when Christopherson levels his artistic eye on Denver’s relationship with gentrification, revealing some of its hidden costs. He has constructed a map installation that he describes as a “war-table,” one that depicts the River North Arts District and its host of competing actors. The map includes different buildings labeled to represent resident institutions; on opening night, Christopherson will alter the map over the course of four hours.

“The buildings will be moved periodically throughout the evening to contend with each other while certain buildings will be removed, so that large corporate structures will be all that remain,” he explains. One structure that will be symbolically removed is Wazee Union, a co-op and living space that has been “home to multiple artists prolific in the Denver area,” he notes, and was recently bought by Zeppelin Development, the force behind such RiNo projects as the Source and the Taxi complex.

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This “dance of progress,” which will unfold on the floor of the gallery, will contain elements of play reminiscent of the battlefields that kids construct in sandboxes or on the playground; in this way, Christopherson will connect the personal narrative of childhood to the structural changes facing Denver. But it is a “fleeting” joy that will be represented here, Christopherson says, a warning of sorts against a possible Denver future where the craving for the old days of leisure, profit-making and development erode the city’s cultural viability.

Christopherson’s creative effort is one of several around town that have taken a critical look at gentrification, including The Fall of Icarus, a mixed-media exhibit that recently closed at Edge Gallery, and a new hash-tag, #gentrifydenver. The Good ol’ Days opens with a reception from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, March 28, and runs through April 4 at Good Thieves Press. Learn more here.

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