The piano — an upright, the kind you see in the back of saloons in Western movies — had been gathering dust at the antique shop for years. It sounded like hell, and its price had been marked down repeatedly. The tag said $300 the day Sebastian Errazuriz saw it, which struck him as a bargain considering he had zero intention of playing the thing: He would buy it, load it into a van with his brother, then string it up from the double-height ceiling of his Brooklyn design studio as a “constant reminder of the possibility of death — a kind of personal Post-It.” Which is exactly what he did, except that it ended up taking six guys to move the piano, not two, plus a considerable amount of online searching to find a clamp strong enough to dangle it ominously from the ceiling beam.
The whole thing sounds a little psycho until you consider it in the context of Errazuriz’s other work, much of which is about being conscious of death and its inevitability. One of his great as-yet-unrealized ambitions is to film a dying person’s last days, broadcasting them to the public in a live feed, right through to the bitter end. Last month he did a test run for a guerilla art piece he’ll deploy in a public park next summer, for which he and a team will lay down 4,400 crosses representing the number of people who die in New York City each month. And one of his more famous design pieces, a stuffed duck with a lampshade in place of its head, is part sight gag and part commentary on life’s ultimate futility: You live, you die, you become someone’s desk lamp. Until he bought the piano, the duck was the only piece of his own art that Errazuriz kept for himself (if he could afford to, trust him, he would keep everything), and then his dealer sold it and told him he couldn’t make another one. But the piano isn’t going anywhere.
Errazuriz made sure of that, fortunately: “The rope holding it up is made for twice the weight of the piano,” he says. That said, he purposefully bought the woven rope “that Musketeers use, the kind they’ll cut in the movies so the chandelier falls onto the bad guys. If it was made of steel, I’d know for sure the piano was totally secure. But every now and again I’ll be talking on the phone, look up and see the ropes, and think fuck fuck fuck it could snap, and I’ll get a little rush.”
Photo © Ari Maldonado