Behind the Scenes at the DAM

Local Artist Tackles Large Installation at the DAM

Local artist and University of Denver professor Laleh Mehran said she first started thinking about her installation at the Denver Art Museum in 2009. The modern and contemporary art curator at the time, now DAM director, Christoph Heinrich had seen some of Mehran’s work and asked her to create something for the Fuse Box gallery. The unique space on level four of the Hamilton Building is dedicated to exploring emerging artists in the new media field. Because of the complexity and scale of the proposed installation, it took a few years, but Men of God, Men of Nature has come to fruition—but not without a lot of work from Mehran and her team.

During the opening of her show, Mehran was kind enough to talk a bit about her process, and I was immediately intrigued. Not only did Mehran desire a building-size cube, video projection, a sound component, and a performance element for her installation, she also required extensive fabrication needs for the exterior and interior of the cube. See below for detailed shots of the exterior and interior panels.

Men of God, Men of Nature exterior.

For the exterior panel of her installation, Mehran altered a topographic map of the Middle East. The resulting image is a stunning swirl of lines and shapes. Her vision was to have this artwork cut into acrylic panels that surround the exterior of a cube. After checking around at local fabrication companies, Mehran decided it was too expensive to create and cut the acrylic panels, so she, and her partner Chris Coleman, decided to create a CNC machine from scratch.

Men of God, Men of Nature interior.

CNC stands for computer numerical control. This type of equipment has been around since the early '70s. CNC machines typically replace (or work in conjunction with) some existing manufacturing process. For example a machine can be programmed to do one of the simplest manufacturing processes, drilling holes.

 

“We started with one of the many open source CNC machine plans available online, purchased all the required parts and with Chris’s engineering background and hardware/software computer skills, we were able to assemble a CNC machine sized to fit our needs,” says Mehran. “It took several days to assemble the machine and start production, although over the next few weeks we had to order more parts to tweak and fine-tune the machine, such as adding a professional-grade vacuum system.”

For Mehran’s purpose, Coleman programmed the machine to cut the specific design on large vinyl panels. It took about 350 hours for the machine to cut the interior and exterior panels. The machine worked for more than 14 days.

 

They did the building and programming right in their garage!

“The new CNC machine has taken the place of our car in the garage. However, we’re reorganizing the garage to make room for both,” says Mehran. “With a CNC machine in our studio, we can continue to explore the bridge between the digital and physical realms, making real our electronic imaginings.”

Learn more about Mehran and her artwork on the exhibition page.

Ashley Pritchard is communications and media relations manager at the Denver Art Museum. Ashley has been at the DAM since 2008 and her favorite exhibition that has been on view here is Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective. She gets to peruse the galleries some mornings around 4 am for TV segments and loves having a little quiet time with the art.