Mark and Brian Canlis were running behind. Last year the brothers, who run Seattle’s most renowned fine-dining restaurant, spent nine months planning their New Year’s Eve party. (It involved a koi pond, a real tattoo parlor, a waterfall, and a replica of Honolulu’s Chinatown.) But after this summer’s follow-up pop up in the parking lot, by fall, they still didn’t have a firm plan for the turn of the decade.
Then, as they were looking for a balloon artist, a staffer mentioned Jihan Zencirli (aka Geronimo), who creates inflatable public art installations that often look like strings of colorful molecules writ large on buildings. She’s worked lately on Kanye West concerts and an art series with the New York City Ballet. In 2017, the LA Design Festival called her work "arguably the most recognizable public art installations in the country." This summer she installed huge inflatable water drops by the Thames River in London, alongside work by Yoko Ono and Damien Hirst. (Yes, she's a big deal on Instagram and Pinterest.)
The Canlis brothers loved her work and called a number on her website, which leads to an absurdist voicemail, with various delirious extensions (press one for a “step-by-step how to on kissing”; press two for “a lesson in patience”). “We kind of fell in love with her,” Brian says. “But she’s very much out of our league.” In early November, they called her anyway.
She called back, elated: She grew up on Queen Anne, she told them, and went to Canlis for prom. “We were like, ‘No way. Want to throw a dance party together?’ And she was like, ‘Hell yes.’”
What’s coalesced over the last couple months will be one of the only times she’s showed art in Seattle since she left in 2010 (a few years ago she did a piece when Hermès came to Nordstrom).
Canlis has dubbed the bash the Last Dance Party of the Decade. Mark calls it a “really fancy house party,” by which he means as meticulously planned as a Canlis tasting menu, but infused with a bit of chaotic fun. If you’re willing to drop the $345 on a ticket (down from last year’s $525, because no koi pond or waterfall), or the $695 for a “Caviar and Champagne Pre-Funk,” you will arrive in all white clothing, “wig to toe.” There’ll be colored lights projected onto party goers, so you’ll go chameleon and shift colors as you move through the party. You’ll dance to the Chris Norton Band (a suave big band out of New York) until midnight. Then Seattle’s Stas Thee Boss—formerly one half of THEESatisfaction and still every bit as formidable—will DJ. On chef Brady Williams’s menu: crab rolls, dry-aged beef ribs glazed in fish sauce caramel, scallion and kimchi pancakes.
For her part, Zencirli will bring those water drops—which graced the banks of the Thames and are between four and 20 feet high, items of psychotropic color—and set them up in the restaurant and its parking lot. And after that, the droplets might become her first properly public art in the city where her work first blossomed.
A DECADE AGO, Zencirli was living on Queen Anne and taking care of her grandmother, who was approaching the end of her life. For work, she commuted to a children’s character education center in Edmonds, where she taught qualities that she feels often get left behind in school curriculum, the very simple and essential stuff—“how to be a good human, how to believe in yourself,” she told me over the phone. She bought some balloons to try to convey that message to kids. After a time, she inflated a big one, three feet wide, and realized that it could alter a room’s mood, and the adults in it—a balloon, a simple object of transformative delight. She took her first inflatable to Ken’s Market on Queen Anne, right by her house.
Her project, which has changed over 10 years, she says, began with her grandmother at her kitchen table, “talking about spectacles and what it is to make people feel good.” After her grandmother died, Zencirli decided to open this up to the world. She moved to LA, where her art career took off.
The installation she’s bringing to Seattle, she says, “is about water being this element that carries and sustains,” how something that was once in a river, or a cloud, can end up in a glass in your hand, a piece of art to say we’re all the same. Water, she says, “represents Seattle really well, too.”
In fact, after the party idea got rolling, Zencirli and the Canlis brothers reached out to Visit Seattle to talk about potentially showing the inflatables as a public art installation. Nothing’s been established yet, but Zencirli says she hopes it’ll “kick off a longer relationship with the city.” (Initially, they were hoping to put them up at Gas Works Park, but Mark says that now looks unlikely.)
Wherever they fall, at the party or in a park, the inflatables will have undergone a transformation themselves, changed through context—like the water they represent, like Zencirli returning with a new take on something that began here, like Canlis perched over Lake Union since the 1950s—the same, but different.
The Last Dance Party of the Decade
Dec 31, Canlis, $345–$695