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Sweet Chairity

Chairs, chairs everywhere, and not a place to sit

By Traci Hukill

About the only thing missing from the ARIS fundraiser Silicon Planet soiree last Saturday night was a place to sit.

There was plenty to eat: chicken in cream sauce, roast pork loin with steamed vegetables, stir-fry served in those little carry-out Chinese food boxes and the greatest dining challenge of all--a Caesar salad served without plate or fork from a circulating waiter's tray, just two slim leaves of Romaine with a quivering dollop of dressing and a sprinkling of Parmesan on top.

We chose from an abundance of libations: beer, wine, soft drinks, espresso and the all-important energy drink. And, of course, the ubiquitous martini, the swanky way to booze it up in the '90s.

And we all, whatever our persuasions, had more than enough to look at. Besides the fashion show, which provided everyone an excuse to ogle physically flawless men and women, the crowd itself was fun to watch, a flock of preening peacocks that included a few television luminaries. An acquaintance bumped into James Doohan (Star Trek's Scotty) in the beer line, Dennis Miller delivered a half-hour's worth of political rant disguised as comedy, Danny Masterson from Cybill gave a laconic speech before lurching backstage, and the B-52s kept the party going until late.

All these things--the food, the drink, the high priests of pop culture circulating through the common masses and causing us to get down with our bad selves--made for a great party. But save for a few really cool mod couches and the steps out in front of the building, there was no place to sit. The footsore partygoer was consigned to an evening of quiet podiatric torture.

Well, there were about two dozen chairs carefully arranged and artfully lit in the foyer of the building. About half of them were functional, which is not a bad ratio considering that every one of these chairs was an artist's rendition conceived for the sole purpose of raising funds for AIDS Resources and Information Services (ARIS) of Santa Clara County via silent auction. The remaining half, a friend noted, handily dispensed with Bauhaus functionalism in favor of more pure (and horrifyingly uncomfortable) aesthetics.

One construction, dubbed Lawn Chair, was actually upholstered in tufts of moss. Another was tiled in mosaic, one resembled a giant pear, and still another, a chaise lounge, featured a seat made from old computer keyboards. So postmodern.

But a little apart from the others, perched on a dais and bathed in light from above, stood a contraption at once ungainly and impossibly graceful, a chair on awkward wheels that gave way to a solid throne seat accented in black velvet and finally, where the shoulders of the sitter would be, a great pair of swooping bronze wings.

Artist Brenda Jamrus teaches color theory and 2-D design at San Jose State University. When the organizers of Silicon Planet approached her about making a chair to auction off, she says she didn't hesitate.

"I have a number of friends who are HIV positive," she says. "My oldest childhood friend died of AIDS five years ago. I was happy to be able to do it because I don't have money to give away, but I can make something."

Unlike Jamrus, her childhood friend Mike Liolios, who inspired the piece, was a religious person.

"But I respect that," she says. "So it's a chair for an earthbound angel to navigate around in. That's why I put a compass in the seat."

Asked if the chair presented her with any problems, Jamrus laughs heartily.

"Yeah--oh yeah, a few of them. There were some technical things that were difficult. Then I got it to the point where it looked great and I looked at it and I thought, 'Oh, that thing's gonna tip over.' So it's got this wheelie bar on the back, for things that go really fast.

"It wouldn't have occurred to me to put it there," she says thoughtfully, "but form follows function."

By 11:30pm the bidding, which happened on laptops connected to a local area network and stationed at different sites around Planet Silicon, was hovering around the $1,100 mark for Jamrus' wing chair. In the end, the highest bidder walked away with the piece for $1,250--not a bad price for something good to look at that you can actually sit in.

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From the Oct. 9-15, 1997 issue of Metro.

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