An Aki Sasamoto talk is a whimsical thing; it’s a walk through what’s on her mind. ‘It’s hard to know,’ she began her latest performance-lecture, at White Rainbow in London, ‘what the other sex thinks about.’ ‘Or’, she added, ambling around, ‘really any other person.’ Climbing onto a dais, she held forth about ‘what kind of people live in this world’. As she spoke, she dashed off a quirky chalk diagram that categorized people as ‘Norms’, ‘Tink’, ‘Odds’, or ‘Professor Kaufner’. There was the ghost of a smile at her lips.
‘Clothes Line’ is Sasamoto’s first UK show. Like the others, it’s what she calls a ‘performance-slash-installation’, though it’s a small retrospective as well. On the walls are ink drawings from three previous US shows, made upon wooden doors (‘Yield Point’, 2017) or black contractor bags (‘Delicate Cycle’, 2016). She calls these ‘graphs’, and like the new one, Judge Mentals – a very literal joke – they look like ersatz lecture-notes. Their wobbly lines and big arrows measure ‘limits’ and ‘deformations’, while the cod science is overlaid with doodles of birds, scissors, tubes of paint.
Each of Sasamoto’s acts, she explained in a recent interview, is designed to happen ‘multiple times’. ‘And because there is never a script,’ she added, ‘there is always the possibility that the work can change while I perform it.’ Judge Mentals looks like a graph she made during ‘Strange Attractors’ (2010), but the chalk-work is a little quicker and gentler than it was back then. At White Rainbow, you can see how time passes during the span of one show as well. One ‘Delicate Cycle’ drawing features a male head with arched brows, and ‘Every Detail Matters’ scrawled lazily across; the one beside (made four days after) gives the man a flat frown and puts ‘EVERY’ in bristling caps. Sasamoto’s sketches are proudly epiphenomenal; they record a thousand fluctuations in her motions from day to day.
Sasamoto likes to return to her preoccupations and see how they fare in new company. In ‘Delicate Cycle’, she marvelled at the cruelty of children: ‘Pulling the legs of insects … Why do they do that?’ The audience nodded. Two years before, in ‘I Hate Mosquitoes – We Live With Animals’ (2013), she had described mosquitoes as ‘petty criminals’ – ‘I hate them, I always think about how to kill them’ – and she recalled bursting one alive. That audience laughed and kept laughing throughout. When Sasamoto muses aloud in her easy style, you see how any opinion is prone to wander and shift.
At ‘Clothes Line’, the audience politely kept their thoughts to themselves. They murmured at the drawings on the walls, then listened with barely a chuckle as Sasamoto expounded her theory of personal types. As usual, she tried to lift the mood with a spell of childish glee, halting her lecture to spin around the busy room and fling plastic bags from her dress. This dizziness was tame compared to ‘Delicate Cycle’, where she climbed inside a working washing-machine while chatting about her schooldays. Still, the audience knew art when they saw it and they all stepped courteously, quietly back.
The antics deserved a little more laughter; an educated spectator should know how silly most performance art, as human behaviour, can look. Sasamoto’s words and sketches are pastiches of serious work, playful forays into the process of a curious mind. It was a relief, then, that at the end of the ‘Clothes Line’ performance, the artist invited questions and her spell momentarily broke. ‘Why “Professor Kaufner?”’ a woman boldly asked. Sasamoto beamed.
Aki Sasamoto: Clothes Line runs at White Rainbow, London until 4 August.
Main image: Aki Sasamoto, Judge Mentals, 2018, performance documentation, White Rainbow, London. Courtesy: the artist, White Rainbow, London and Take Ninagawa, Tokyo; photograph: Damian Griffiths
First published in Issue 198