You can stand on it to reach something, stack a few books on top of it, use it to prop open a door, or even sit on it. On a hot summer day in downtown Denver, having a place to take a load off is a welcome — and all too rare — relief.
Sitting can be luxurious, the ultimate sign of leisure in a world of hustle and bustle. It can also be tedious, as you sit stuck in a car or on a bus or in a courtroom. And sitting can be powerful, depending on whom you’re sitting with. Do they, as the saying goes, have a seat at the table? Do you?
“Chair” can mean more than a thing you sit on. There’s the chair of the board. Chairing a meeting. And the nastiest chair of all, the electric one that the state once used to kill.
Generally, though, chairs are quite benign and often overlooked. There’s art appreciation, literature appreciation, jazz and classical music appreciation. What about furniture appreciation? Not so much.
Still, chairs serve a concrete function in this world. Until they don’t. Until they are broken and surrendered to a junkyard. Until the table they once surrounded no longer exists. Until they’re stashed in storage and forgotten. Until they’re put in the hands of an artist and turned into sculptures.
Is there anything less practical than a sculpture?
Denver artist Kenzie Sitterud has put chairs to use in "Future Seat," a project that cajoles the public into contemplating issues of race and gender representation and power, and considering what could happen if we don’t radically change the course of humanity and address a slew of environmental issues. Or at least enjoy some shade.
Located outside the Federal Reserve Bank on Curtis Street, between 16th and 17th streets through October 1, "Future Seat" comprises two sculptures — each ten feet tall and five feet wide — that loosely resemble the growing trees lining downtown blocks; chairs sprawl out in all directions from the blue poles like leaves and branches.
The bright, colorful sculptures are totally dysfunctional, at least for sitting. They’re what happens when a tree fails to be a tree and a chair fails to be a chair, and meaning and language and purpose fail to line up to expectations.
That awkward experience is called dysphoria, explains Sitterud. It’s what happens when the tools the world offers don’t match your experience, when the men and women’s segregated bathrooms don’t match your own gender identity, when the check boxes on an employment form or a marriage certificate don’t line up with your understanding of yourself, when the people in power don’t reflect your experience of the world.
Sitterud was thinking about all of that while creating “Future Seat,” a public-art project funded by Denver Arts & Venues, Denver Parks and Recreation, the Downtown Denver Partnership and the Design Workshop Foundation. Although the dystopian piece undermines the basic notions of tree and chair, the installation also works as design-oriented urban art — friendly to tourists, who snap photos of their kids in front of it, grinning at how quirky and cool the city’s public installations can be. Most of those tourists are not thinking too much about gender dysphoria. though. Nor are they considering climate change and ecological collapse. Few are reading the artist statement on the ground between the sculptures.
If they did, they would know that the concept behind “Future Seat” is quite specific. The installation is designed to evoke troubling questions: What happens after various marginalized people spend decades asking for a seat at the table and clamoring for inclusion and diversity amid an ecological crisis? Does it really matter if we create inclusive spaces, if the end result is that we all die?
For Sitterud, the answer isn’t an either/or scenario. If people only care about identity and representation and fail to champion the future of Earth as a sustainable habitat, all of the inclusion and diversity is for nothing. But if the world continues to be the domain of white hetero men and run by state violence, incarceration and institutional poverty, is it really worth saving?
Before cashing in and giving up, Sitterud offers a couple of concrete ways change can happen: Bring more types of people to the table before it’s too late. Vote. Riot.
While the agit-prop of “Future Seat” may not be readily apparent, the piece does make one thing clear: Sitting is no longer an option.