“Skewed Lies/Parallel Stare” (2015), Aki Sasamoto’s recent series at Luxembourg & Dayan, emerges from a previous performance, Skewed Lines (2010). Having delivered the original monologue herself, for this recent version of the piece, Sasamoto shifted to a distinctly more discursive mode, engaging actress Jessica Weinstein and musician Matt Bauder as collaborators in unfolding the text/poem/essay, which begins by telling of a mosquito before the author finds her way to a mysterious wedding invitation from her brother, who warns, “Please do not get involved with anything criminal.” This warning brings Sasamoto, and the audience, into the middle of Jean Genet’s notorious 1949 book The Thief’s Journal. In the context of “Skewed Lies/Parallel Stare,” Sasamoto quotes directly from Genet: “There is a close relationship between flowers and convicts. The fragility and delicacy of the former are the same nature as the brutal insensitivity of the latter.” Further understanding of Sasamoto’s shared obsessions with Genet is clear in the remarks that follow the excerpt: “People underground knows what’s going on underground / and above ground at the same time. / People above the ground don’t know that it exists here. / So these two lines I put it, it’s kind of like skewed position.” She ends with the personal anecdote earlier introduced, drawing an additional parallel to her family: “Like my brother will never understand me / and I never understand him.”
A meeting point between the artist’s lyrical method and the audience’s confusion.
Similar to Genet, the factual elements of Sasamoto’s semi-autobiographical addresses are dubious—and also like Genet, factual authenticity is ultimately beside the point. This anarchical approach to certainty is also apparent in two other recent performances by Sasamoto. Held at the Highline, Food Rental (2015) found her offering visitors an à la carte selection of micro-performances and playful narrative demonstrations. Some of these episode-inspired recipes reiterate themes from both Genet and Georges Bataille. Sasamoto’s most recent project, Coffee/Tea (2015), is on view at the Frieze art fair in New York. Guiding visitors through a labyrinth of white plywood bathroom stalls, toilet paper is hung at eye level, with various questions inscribed on the wall in colored ink—a nod to the late 20th-century sexual cruising culture inspired by Genet’s earlier books. Here, however, instead of raucous jokes or other obscenities, Sasamoto’s stall writings guide visitors through a personality test devised by the artist. As they exit, visitors are assigned personality types, such as “Into Odd,” “Into Youth,” “Into Old,” even “Into Vague.” Like her recipes or earlier autobiographical narratives, the science or accuracy of these personality tests is not really the point. It is the contingent meeting point between Sasamoto’s lyrical method and the audience’s confusion that matters most.
There is something happening between Sasamoto’s invocation of crime and platitudes such as mosquitos, cooking, toilet paper, bathrooms and personality tests that, despite its potentially banal choreography, congeals when activated—or, like poetry inspired by the street as written by the likes of Frank O’Hara, Karl Holmqvist, or Genet himself, congeals when uttered in the same context it came from.
Aki Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1980) is an artist who lives and works in New York. She is represented by JTT, New York, and Take Ninagawa, Tokyo.
Mathieu Copeland is a curator who lives and works in London. He recently edited the book Choreographing Exhibitions (Les Presses du Réel) and realized “The Exhibition of a Film,” an exhibition as a feature film for cinemas.
Image: Aki Sasamoto, Strange Attractors, 2010, Courtesy of the artist and Take Ninagawa, Tokyo. Photo credit: Kei Okano