I looked around my home – littered with about a hundred décor-type sentimental objects: lots of art, some gifts, and a fair few things from my childhood.
Then, I had a psychological break of sorts. I just couldn’t look at any of it. It all had to go, immediately. I’d become paralyzed by all of its physical and psychological weight. During the purge I kept asking myself, “why should I own anything?” AND, “it might be worth something.” It was an internal battle with a complex reality. My pride was hurt in seeing that I’d become my stuff, so much so that I couldn’t get rid of it.
But why? The obvious one, because the object had memories attached to it, and less obvious, two, because I paid for it. I paid for it with my time and effort and turned that into cash. It’d be like throwing away some of myself. It has become nearly indiscernible for me to understand the value of anything beyond its transactional worth with few exceptions.
So, I organized my abode into a somewhat more digestible orientation, and so far I’ve only returned one object to a purely decorative position. It’s a 2” x 2” oil painting of a fictitious gaseous yellow galaxy surrounded by pin-prick stars in a perfect acrylic box. It sits humbly on my shelf, and winks at me, “you are mostly insignificant, but you’re a beautiful little part of a giant, chaotic, made-up universe.” It puts me at some ease —the reason I have it there, one of the reasons I still care about art at all. The painting, and the friendly little voice that whispers this sentiment to me in my head (because it certainly isn’t mine), is that of ridiculously idealistic artist Jonathan Saiz.
Jonathan happens to be a long-time friend, a confidant, and probably the person I argue the most with. He is usually how I know I’m not broken yet. I’m naturally cynical, and hate the idea of creating anything that doesn’t have inherent utility. So, art with no purpose, I have a seriously hard time understanding. Jonathan has brought me closer to the other side, but not yet over the wall.
“I still don’t see why you’d make that,” I think, “maybe for the money?”
And then he tells me about his latest project, Utopia. And how ALL of it, all 100,000 pieces, will be 100% FREE. WTF? So he allowed me to interview him on the subject so I don’t lose my mind even more.
AT: Why is art important?
JS: The plastic ferns in the fishbowl are important for the goldfish in the same way that art is important to us. It triggers a feeling of realness and it makes our cages look prettier. And at it’s best, contemporary art can expose the grand hypocrisy of our society and offer new potentials.
AT: Why is your project called UTOPIA? Seriously, I’m eye-rolling to know…
JS: “Utopia” inspires MANY eye rolls, which is a clear sign of our collective cynicism. It was a working title based off of a question: “In a perfect world, what would it be like to for an artist to not let ego, monetary value, career aspirations or competition lead or drive them, but to just create and share beauty as an indescribable human experience?” I want to move towards something positive and inspiring like that, so Utopia is my full-spectrum compass.
AT: How can you justify creating artwork that no one has to pay for? Don’t you have to feed yourself?
JS: It’s never really added up in our “Robbing Peter to pay Paul” way of doing things, so I can’t really justify anything. I don’t have all the answers yet, it’s a long term experiment where I’m putting all that I can give on the collective table to create a vision that that is outside the monetized cycle of consumerism. This piece is not for sale. This piece is a gift that I can’t yet afford to give (picture my husband saying “that’s beautiful! but how the hell are we going to pay for this??!?”)
AT: What kind of objects will you paint? What significance do these themes or figures have for you?
JS: My assumption in Utopia is that there is no revenge or greed or nationalism in our future. We get to keep our cultures and we aren’t afraid to share or combine them. We don’t create and support things that aren’t healthy or beautiful for us collectively, and yet it’s not just a boring happy-vanilla experience. We will always love mystery, seduction, darkness and intrigue—we just learn to do it better. The vast utopian imagery I’m creating should trigger magical joy and sensual mystery. Utopia is a dynamic place with fascinating depths.
In terms of the actual sculptures and paintings, the goal is for each piece to be truly special: I’m incorporating real gold, hand faceted gemstones, pearls and other natural elements into the miniature oil paintings of portraits, landscapes, abstracts and color fields
AT: I’m sure something psychic/psychedelic/otherworldly and outlandish has happened in its conception. What’s the most touching aspect of this project so far?
JS: The entire world is filled with gold rings and jewels that never get to sparkle in the sun – mountains of dead treasure forgotten in sock and underwear drawers. I did a bit of harmless, silent sacrificial magic to energetically ask for those materials to be able to use in these pieces to give away freely. So far, thousands of real hand-faceted gemstones, gold leaf, 5 solid gold rings and a few opals with carved faces have made it to me. This is the spirit of Utopia; there’s more than enough for all of us to gift but not enough for us to sell or buy. (p.s. send me yours!)
AT: I know that there will be 100,000 pieces, all 2” x 2”. I calculate that will take up something like a full 14-story building facade worth of space if set 1 inch apart. What do you imagine the feeling of being literally inside a womb of these objects will feel like?
JS: A reminder of the dreams outside of the fishbowl – sparkly, dazzling and endlessly interconnecting- A colorful temple of love. This first temple will be a temporary experience, existing all together only once, but my daydreams of 1 million pieces in a permanent installation have already begun…
AT: For the skeptics, this seems like a fantasy undertaking. The money, the space, the time, the materials, all seem like incredible obstacles. Could you first describe what you believe the challenges to be and how you might overcome them, or what you think may be the most difficult part of this project.
JS: Just being alive is a fantasy undertaking. This creation will take time (1-2 years) and require a ton of problem-solving. So I’ll leverage everything I’ve learned in the past 35 years and do my best. For me, it works to not focus too much on the nuts and bolts and to just get started… I have 500 pieces done already, so I just have to do that 199 more times. Easy! 😉 Who helps along the way, personally or even institutionally is up to Fate and good fortune.
AT: What is your ideal outcome? Will this project truly inspire UTOPIA? Is that it idea?
JS: My Utopian society definitely values art for what it is rather than what it costs or how rare it is. Maybe this experiment can challenge the Western value that free equals valueless. I’m under no illusion that I can singularly change the world, but I’m open to being surprised around how this project might continue to shift the old paradigm and invite 100,000 new friends into the conversation.
And maybe it’s enough that it will change me, which is the most I can attempt to do. Being an artist can be wildly fun again. We make magic. We invent worlds. And we create value from trash, illuminating the truth that there is no such thing as value OR trash.
AT: If you were poor, like actually destitute, would you still make art, or think about this project in the same way. Is it right that only those with some amount of privilege get to make statements about transactional dissonance?
JS: I am Peter and I am Paul and everything feels hypocritical. I do feel privileged to be in this temporary position of ability, and also deeply ashamed at times to do what I do while others are starving. This question is impossible to answer with words, this Utopian action of challenging the system of inequity that we’ve all created is my best answer for now.
AT: Do aliens exist?
JS: Absolutely yes. We are them, having a temporary fleshy vacation/nightmare inside every sentient being on Earth…which is why I’m a vegetarian.
AT: If you could, would you paint a miniature for everyone on earth?
JS: I’d love to paint gift miniatures for only half of the world – with one condition, that each piece must be re-gifted to the remaining half every April 30th. Half the effort but more than twice the good vibes.
AT: How can we be a part of your Utopia in progress?
JS: I want to hear your daydreams and feel your good vibes while I build this dream. Please follow the project on Instagram @UTOPIA_IS_FREE