Sculptor joins community to preserve Aspen’s legacy

Phillip Ramsay
Special to The Aspen Times
Juan Garaizabal at Simon Miccio Galley.
Dale Mitchell/Summit Photo and Film

For Juan Garaizabal, sculpting public art brings to mind the feeling when someone with whom you are in love tells you about a childhood memory.

“It is an enjoyment,” he said.

Preserved memories offer insights into the present. 

Simon Miccio Gallery’s inaugural show closed just a week ago. For his gallery’s second show, “Converging Perspectives: Light, Memory, & Transformation,” which opened Aug. 31 and runs through Nov. 10, he commissioned three, high-profile, globally-renowned artists.

Pablo Armesto, Andrea Galvani, and Garaizabal each bring different perspectives on light, time, and space. The latter of the three has spent a good amount of time immersed in Aspen’s community during this past month.

A high degree of community involvement is at the heart of his work. Since arriving in town, you may have seen him contributing to the polo matches’ awards presentation at the Aspen Valley Polo Club, or perhaps you joined him for a recent artist talk and dinner in one Aspenite’s home for communion and legacy-sharing.

“Aspen is a good playground to experience ideas more freely,” Garaizabal said.

Or maybe you were recently brought together as part of a small group of bespectacled viewers for his steel-welding, live art performance with the finished sculpture presenting a depiction of Aspen’s Galena Street — all of this is in the spirit of joining together in community.

During a recent artist talk and dinner, locals sparked the conversation about the Aspen memories that are worth preserving into legacy through sculpture.

“The people who came to the dialogue were ready to participate,” he said. “The richness of the talk was impressive. They were willing to be a part of something. It was exactly the way I like to see people involved. I wanted everybody there to be part of this and have their own input. Their ideas have weight and are based on the love of the place.”

Community empowerment through memory is core to his sculpture-making process and artistic approach. He sets up shop to weld the memory of spaces, be it in small towns or major metropolitan areas around the world.

“My work is about history and places,” he said. “I want people to see how memories can be recovered, and with a few elements, you can transmit emotions related to a place that they love.”

He knows the value of making impressions in a place.

“When you love a place, you want to be a part of that place. You are there because you love the place, so you want to be changed and influenced by the place to be part of the community,” he said. “The best way to be part of a community is to share feelings with something that is from you and other people of that place.”

There’s good reason for his highly-anticipated visit to China to install a new, outdoor commission this week. There, he’ll put in a place a 69-foot sculpture in the middle of Shanghai, commissioned by the Chinese government.

As he seeks to share in the participation with his process, the work is ostensibly his, but it’s also yours.

“That’s what makes me feel proud. I prefer as many people as possible having an opinion, and I don’t want to limit that in any way,” he said.

That the shared project is the people’s project is precisely how it becomes his project. His touch is here aplenty and so is that of the community.

“I can have anyone on board and still have a lot of my personality in the project,” he said. “I’m not someone who says ‘don’t touch it because then it’s not mine.’ Everyone can put their spoon in, and I will still feel it’s ours.”

When considering what elements of the past are worthy of sculpture, he said that the ideas that resonate most strongly with him are those of the spirituality of the buildings and the land.

“The best cities in the world are those where the people are very concerned about how it’s built,” he said. “That type of concern is very positive for a community.”

Since being in Aspen, he’s found warm support in the community. He does not try to control the process or the product of what emerges from communal brainstorming, he sees the goodness in spaces.

“Goodness has always been there, right beside bad things, at the same time. Even wars take the worst things of people and also the best things of generosity, creativity, opportunity, and improvement,” he said. “There’s a greatness behind that.”

Garaizabal isn’t interested in shining the light on himself, instead opting to share the light with others. For him, he wants to bring people together to participate and feel included as part of creating art paying homage to the memory of their place, their town.

“The success of a project is not that it is my project, but that it is as many other peoples’ project, and they are involved as possible so they consider it their own,” he said. “It’s their city, their place.”

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