New York-based Japanese artist Aki Sasamoto’s work affects the viewer on many levels. Her creations, sculptures that serve utilitarian and aesthetic purposes, are superb enough to warrant museum attention by themselves. But Sasamoto’s work really is about the performance. Her singularly silly performance style is underlined by real human truths. But aside from all the wisdom and beauty that is found in Sasamoto’s work, it’s also really funny. Perhaps that is why her public performance on the New York City Highline, ‘Food Rental,’ worked so well: though a certain art-centric crowd (including NY Mag art critic Jerry Saltz) was in attendance, there was also what seemed to be a gathering crowd of passing tourists. These people were perhaps not aware that they were witnessing the newest performance by one of the most important contemporary artists in the world, but they certainly laughed a lot.
Sasamoto provides catharsis to an audience in lieu of the audience’s art-savvy. Perched atop the High Line Rail Yards, a busy and loud touristy section, sat an actual wheeled food cart built by Sasamoto. I heard a spectator complaining about how “loud a place this is for performance art,” and I wanted to tell him to shut his mouth. The loudness was the whole point. Sasamoto wanted the experience to be as close to the actual food truck experience as possibles The performance began with Sasamoto asking the audience to pick from her menu. The first item picked was something to do with diseases. Sasamoto asked the audience to think of two diseases, and said, “Two diseased we are going to look at today: Charismatic Syndrome and Strategic Syndrome.” She laid out the symptoms, causes, preventions, etc of these diseases by making gestures out of two sets of mashed potatoes. Basically, she was discussing the nature of capitalism. She used an example of Martha Stewart, clearly someone suffering from Charismatic Syndrome, “Everyone has an aunt that plants thing,” said Sasamoto. But people with strategic syndrome who are obsessed with what’s going on in the word (media, PR, hipsters, financers) build people like Martha Stewart up. It was hilarious and full of truth.
Another menu off the item criticized critics, and was discussing a purported New Yorker article that was unfair to a pickpocketer. Pickpocketers, to Sasamoto, are the highest form of art.The performance veered between philosophical truths and personal memories and traumas that resonated nonetheless. One menu item saw Sasamoto strap on a pair of sandals elevated by sharp steak knives as she stood atop her food cart’s counter and cut oranges with her sandals. She did so while relaying a memory about having her mother visit when she spent the whole visit finding reasons to not tell her mother everything she always wanted to tell her. The story ended with her in the bathroom at the airport in a stall next to a woman with diarrhea. The story was sad and beautiful, but presented in a way that will surely be unforgettable to the viewer. And maybe that’s the point.
Sasamoto’s performances are really an elaborate and beautifully conceived form of communication. She has found a way to express herself by creating these performances. The performances are so distinct that the ideas and storied conveyed by Sasamoto remain buried into the viewer’s psyche. It’s like when you hear a certain song, and it takes you back to a time in your life. It triggers a memory. Sasamoto’s performances trigger memories, but they also create new ones. Now when I see mashed potatoes, I will remember the plague of Charismatic Syndrome. That, my friends, is genius. Sasamoto is not just one of the great contemporary artists; she’s one of the great contemporary storytellers.
Adam Lehrer is a writer, journalist, and art and fashion critic based in New York City. On top of being Autre’s fashion and art correspondent, he is also a regular contributor to Forbes Magazine. His unique interests in punk, hip hop, skateboarding and subculture have given him a distinctive, discerning eye and voice in the world of culture, et al. Oh, and he also loves The Sopranos. Follow him on Instagram: @adam102287
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