New York-based Japanese artist Aki Sasamoto gained attention for her multimedium installation/performances at the 2010 Whitney Biennial. More recently, her first solo exhibition in New York featured humble dollar-store materials in an expansive, ephemeral installation of sound and sculpture titled “Talking in Circles in Talking.” The gallery walls were transformed into a climbing-wall-cum-whiteboard, creating a backdrop for several performances.
Sasamoto placed eight stainless-steel mixing bowls on the floor around the narrow gallery. An ice pick stood upright inside each bowl, and on its sharp tip balanced a smaller steel bowl, face down. Above these precarious contraptions hung large chunks of ice suspended in loosely woven baskets made of brightly colored shoelaces. As the ice melted, the pinging of the drips on the metal was amplified through small microphones, filling the gallery with percussive, Tin Pan Alley-like sounds. Frozen inside the ice were small items, including keys, eyeglasses and wristwatches, symbolizing the “owned” nature of objects. According to Sasamoto, at the time of death, people become the objects that they are physically close to, in the way ice becomes water—a theory she articulated during her performances.
Several large illuminated globe lamps, some humorously outfitted with brightly colored and patterned panties, were positioned here and there. Sasamoto crafted the lamps from large, translucent rubber balls attached to handheld showerheads with long, snaking plastic hoses. Two of these globes were affixed to moving chairs, which the artist made from disparate chair seats, legs and wheels. The artist’s quietly clever skill at functional assemblage extended to the woven shoelaces holding the ice, which involved the same complex technique used to make nets for buoys.
During the opening night performance, the artist allowed her multitudinous ideas to speak through her objects. Beginning with a somber, poetic eulogy, she explained that, in death, her grandfather became “an abacus with ivory beads that he kept in his shirt pocket, keeping his calculations close to his heart.” After the eulogy, Sasamoto proved adept at manipulating the emotional tenor of the room. She created a disquieting tension as she prowled through the crowded gallery, casually pushing people aside, rolling around on the altered chairs, wrapping the lamps around her body and stabbing ice picks into the wall.
Sasamoto’s work relates to the Japanese postwar movements Gutai and Mono-ha. In Gutai, artists did not so much change materials as bring them to life, often through physical interaction with them. From this perspective, Sasamoto’s everyday items are reborn with alternative uses and new realities. Mono-ha’s emphasis on dialogue between natural and man-made materials can also be found in various aspects of Sasamoto’s practice.
Transitioning moods again during the performance, the artist took on the demeanor of a weary fashion doyenne. She delivered what could be described as a panty rant, drawing diagrams on the walls and claiming that panties are a place of “pride, taste and statement.” She warned would-be leopard print panty wearers to exercise caution: “Don’t do it. If you’re not 100 percent leopard . . . don’t become an irresponsible tourist of fantasies.” At the conclusion, Sasamoto climbed the wall using the ice picks and magic markers plastered into the surface and sat on a wooden seat near the ceiling. Seemingly 100 percent leopard—and all performer—she retired to a feline’s perch, gazing down at the audience below.
View of Aki Sasamoto’s performance during her exhibition “Talking in Circles in Talking,” 2013; at Soloway.