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January 6th, 2009
Tue, Jan. 6th, 2009 04:00 am

Aki Sasamoto -- a performance artist and dancer, born in Japan but educated at Wesleyan and Columbia -- is the kind of figure I'd probably have to invent if she didn't exist. In her performances she's used potatoes as percussion instruments, supped with the devil with a long spoon (actually, a very long knife), smashed three hundred dishes to powder, collected discarded furniture, divined people's habits from their polythene bag collections, stuffed clothes down her clothes, scrubbed up suds while making conversation with no-one in particular, delivered lectures, cooked pasta in the sky, and made the perfect sauce while wearing a wallpaper apron.



Despite the domestic sound of some of these activities, Aki feels her brain is rather male. "Since I do not own an urge to express my femininity," she says, "and since I feel as though I think more like male (What does this mean?), it surprises me when they talk about femaleness with what I produce... I may appear more feminine than I think. I have masculine purpose in me who wants to converse with my outward femininity. My skin is a line between such sexual divisions. In performing, I balance right on my skin."

Aki only graduated from her MFA degree at Columbia in 2007, but was already selected for the Yokohama Triennale in 2008. Here she is (courtesy Tokyo Art Beat) talking about her performance there:



Sasamoto reminds me of a composite, better-organised version of various Japanese art student and musician friends who ended up in New York. Where some others foundered, Sasamoto seems to be succeeding, winning grants, prizes and prestigious showcases at places like the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. One reason she's doing so well is that she's full of good ideas, and personable. Another is that she works very hard -- even while pulling art world performances together, Aki is appearing in, and co-choreographing dance performances with her friend Yvonne Meier. Finally, Aki is very aware of the power of collectives; she's a member of two artists' groups, Lower Lights and Culture Push.



Aki says something very interesting in an interview, something about the relationship between being an expatriate and being judgmental. (Aki wants to encourage judgmentalism.) "More and more expatriates," she explains, "tend to be what I call Hoppers. Those who are aware of crossing borders of any kind seem to be more judgmental."

But if they're inwardly judgmental, these expats master an outward conformity, a kind of Zelig-like quality: "They are also experts in blurring differences, to mask the consequences of their judgments. As a survival technique, Hoppers fool themselves to ignore gaps, or believe in mingling as the most natural, or even embrace characteristics, while positioning themselves out of such horizontal references... Whatever the resulting attitude is, border crossers face the choice of how to locate themselves in relation to sets of plural realities and values. This is the consequence of hopping-around. Being an expatriate is not the only method of hopping-around. But it seems to be an easy category in these days. This is what I mean by Hoppers."

This culture-hopping judgmentalism informs the performance Aki gave at ExitArt in New York in March 2007, which involved "bungee potatoes":






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