Denver Art Museum
July 4, 2021 – June 18, 2023
By Alida Kress
Lares Feliciano transforms the Denver Art Museum’s Precourt Family Discovery Hall into a timeless, vibrant sanctuary of nostalgia with her multimedia installation, Memory Mirror. Her stylized work moves viewers to confront their relationships with memory and explore the history of the marginalized communities who have shaped Denver’s history. Feliciano’s extensive use of the gallery space encourages viewers to interact with the installation’s various elements. As such, she creates a piece that invites viewers to see her work and become part of it themselves.
As I approach the gallery, I am beckoned in by the sounds of jazz softly underlying an audial collage of recorded memories. Enormous flowers bloom on vintage wallpaper adorning the walls in a 1970s supergraphics style, and from behind the colorful blossoms, grey-toned faces peer down at me.
Shadow boxes containing sentimental items donated by the Denver public hang on the wall and, across the room, two vintage chairs invite me to sit. An old TV, globe, rotary phone, and other vintage items accompany the chairs in their place on a large rug. Although these items were foreign to me, something about their arrangement felt comfortable, almost familiar.
Graphics stylistically akin to hand-drawn, children’s book illustrations are projected on a large oval frame. The cheerful animations provide visual accompaniment to the memories being recounted overhead. I felt compelled to look at each item in the shadow boxes, sit in the chairs, spin the globe, and even dial my number on the rotary phone. All elements of the installation work in conjunction to instill a sense of hazy nostalgia in me which I yearned to follow to some philosophical conclusion.
Lares Feliciano is a Denver-based artist from California who works in multimedia design to create interactive art installations. The local artist has another installation at Meow Wolf Denver, an artist collective that collaborates with local artists to create maximalist, interactive art installations at permanent locations across the U.S. At the installation in Denver, Feliciano applies her unique artistic style to breathe life into the Portals of Theseus collection. The whimsical nature of her work with Meow Wolf remains evident within this installation as well.
Memory Mirror opened in July of 2021 and will continue through June 18th of 2023. Prior to the installation’s debut, Feliciano set up an in-person event and a phone number at which the public could leave a voicemail recalling a significant memory of theirs. Participants were also invited to donate images and items of sentimental value to be displayed in the gallery. The photographs incorporated into the wallpapers are partially these images donated by participants, but most were taken from the Denver Library’s official archives and depict a wide range of Denver’s diverse cultural history.
In my conversation with Feliciano, she shared that her inspiration for the piece came largely from her dad who passed away from early-onset Alzheimer’s when she was 16. Recalling her own relationship with memory and her dad, she notes that memory is an intangible thing, the loss of which, however, is incredibly tangible. Thus, in Memory Mirror, she attempts to capture tangible markers of memory that not only reflect the associated moment in the donor’s life, but also their relationship with the memory as they recall it. She stated that the installation is not trying to make sense of memory or give it any type of order, but simply to give it a place.
In asking Feliciano about what she hoped viewers might gain from experiencing the installation, she said, “Hopefully their own nostalgia is triggered and they are forced to remember… anything.” For me, the piece was a way to interact with and process trauma. The nature of the space encouraged me to recall difficult memories and sit with them in ways I hadn’t before. The space was soft and calm, and it felt as though the words tumbling from my mouth had a safe place to exist outside of my own mind.
In an interview with Westword, Feliciano shared, “My work often evokes a dreamlike nostalgia where decades overlap and all of time exists at once.” This sentiment is incredibly apparent in the installation. While much of the installation is a call to self-reflection, just as significant is how it spotlights the history of Denver’s marginalized communities. The images Feliciano edited into the flowers on the wallpapers feature mainly people of color. These photos feature nostalgic photographs of varying levels of formality. Feliciano showcases a history of people of color in Denver by including everything from images of CU Denver’s minority student organizations in the 1950s to an image of Denver’s Bruce Randolf at his street naming ceremony. Feliciano described this part of the installation as a method to “give them their flowers,” sharing that she “had no idea what sort of celebrations have existed for any of these people, but they’re here if nothing else.”
In the wake of the pandemic, Feliciano wanted to acknowledge how hard it is to exist, but also how powerful it is to be able to remember something good. We discussed the potential of all of time existing at once, and how recognizing that is an incredible way to deal with grief and trauma. For anyone who has read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Memory Mirror is a step towards seeing every moment of life all at once, like one would behold a stretch of the Rocky Mountains.
Feliciano’s work urges her viewers to lean into the resemblance Memory Mirror holds to a relative’s living room. It encourages viewers to sit in that nostalgia either to process their relationship with memory or to learn a little more about Denver’s collective memory and the histories of marginalized communities so often written out of colonial history books.
Memory Mirror facilitates a multifaceted experience in which the viewer is invited to explore not only their own memories, but the memory of the city they are in. Feliciano has created a piece that cradles the viewer’s internal child and allows them the space and safety to sit, feel, and remember.
“Meow Wolf Denver Introduced Portals of Theseus,” Taking The Kids, January 7, 2023, https://takingthekids.com/meow-wolf-denver-introduced-portals-of-theseus/.
 Kyle Harris, “Lares Feliciano Wants Your Memories for a Denver Art Museum Installation,” Westword (Westword, March 17, 2021), https://www.westword.com/arts/lares-feliciano-collects-memories-for-memory-mirror-at-the-denver-art-museum-11921404.
 Jr Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five: The Children’s Crusade (London: Vintage Books, 2000), 86.