78°N 15°E: Jonathan Saiz says goodbye
Somewhere above the Arctic Circle, buried under the permafrost of the Svalbard archipelago, lies the Global Seed Vault, man’s best attempt to protect all kinds of flora from the lowest and most extreme tendencies. destroyers of humanity.
What assurance can we derive from knowing that the regenerative future of our planet is assured at a temperate temperature of -18°?
For Denver-based artist Jonathan Saiz, a lot.
“The totality adds up to brilliant, candy-coated visual narratives infused with existential dread,” he says of Seed Vault, his current exhibition at the K Contemporary Art Gallery. “It reflects my interest in social and spiritual upheaval as well as my fascination with optimistic irreverence and the possibility of darker things to come.”
The ideas of rebirth, regrowth and the safety of reincarnation are the dominant themes of the exhibition.
“Jonathan is going through a transition,” says Jennifer Berry, director of K Contemporary. “This exhibition serves as a place for him to address and work on some of his current questions about environmental, personal and social affairs.”
And the process it has. In reality, Seed Vault became both the question, the answer, and ultimately the impetus Saiz needed to honor himself, take a break from typical artistic pursuits, and decide to spend time abroad. This will be his last commercial exhibition and what better place for a solidarity send-up than at K Contemporary – a gallery committed to realizing the greatest visions of its artists, even if those visions are outside of convention.
“There’s a part of how this exhibition informs the next chapter for him,” Doug Kacena, owner and curator of K Contemporary, says of Saiz’s future. “It’s exciting for me. It’s a sense of identity for him. We all tell ourselves these stories of who we are, and he looks at that narrative and wonders if that’s the story he wants to tell let alone live.
In an oblique nod to the Norwegian Seed Vault, Saiz’s objects and their curation are a sensually stimulating compost of sculptural, conceptual, poetic, neon and installation works, all presented in a visually engaging experience. Although no active participation from the viewer is required, the whole artistic adventure creates an almost uncomfortable feeling of dread; questioning; of emotional discontent.
“There’s a sense of apocalypse, of morbidity, in all of this, and that’s the part that feels overwhelming and insurmountable,” Kacena says. “There is an aspect of that when you go through the show. It’s palpable and heavy and squeezes the chest.
Saiz’s obsession with climate change is clear, but it’s the way he questions humanity’s role in it that makes it truly transformative art. His exhibition forces us to look within and question our role in everything from the macro-scale of our global impact to the microcosm within ourselves: what are we doing here?
“It’s the idea of the sublime. How do we reconcile within ourselves issues that have no easy solutions,” says Kacena. “To me, that’s what good contemporary art does: it wins you over with good aesthetics and spending time with it and asking those questions. I want this gallery to illuminate these dialogues.
Although the experience is not exuberant, the exhibition leaves the viewer elated and ultimately hopeful. Saiz presents our current cultural dichotomy in a way that balances feelings of angst with feelings of joy and humor. It is this juxtaposition that makes his art so profound and precious.
Immediately confronted by two tombstones with mixed-media encrusted paintings of ladybugs and idealized, writhing naked bodies, Saiz takes us on a linear journey around a watermelon cabinet, a rendering of his dream home, figures representing shadows and egos, and a rainbow colored bowl of ladybugs. Follow the 52 miniature acrylic painted boxes hanging on the wall and let them tell you a colorful story: Are these the seeds Saiz plants as he wonders what’s next?
“After 20 years, I’m dropping the paintbrush and picking up a whole different set of artistic tools,” he says. “Things will be different in the future and I couldn’t imagine working with a more thoughtful and supportive gallery to embrace this huge personal change. Seed Vault will be my final trade-exhibition-career-gallery, and I sincerely hope that you will come and see it before June 25the if you can, but if you prefer to go plant a tree, I understand!! »
The collective body of work in Saiz’s exhibition hints at the cost of dreams, our legacies, and whether there is something greater than art that can serve as a placeholder in time.
Seed Vault is visible until June 25.
Visit the K Contemporary Art Gallery and celebrate Saiz as he says his final goodbyes to Denver.