AKI SASAMOTOFold Your Way (detail), 2015, Twenty framed inkjet prints, T-shirts and custom table, dimensions variable. Courtesy Harmony Murphy Gallery, Los Angeles.

No Choice

Aki Sasamoto

Japan USA
Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

Life is full of choices, and Japanese-born, New York-based artist Aki Sasamoto’s witty installations, ready-mades, performances and videos demonstrate the banality of such trivial yet ceaseless decision-making processes. Scientific studies have shown that all decisions, big or small, result in the same amount of brain activity
—evidence, perhaps, of farce and folly being defining characteristics of humankind. In “No Choice,” at Los Angeles’s Harmony Murphy Gallery, Sasamoto presented situations that mirrored, and perhaps mocked, the many choices we encounter in everyday life. 

In Fold Your Way (2015), a multicolored T-shirt rests on a counter-like table resembling those used to fill out forms at a government agency. Viewers are invited to fold the shirt and compare their results against a photo-based chart of possible outcomes, which serves as a pseudo-scientific indicator of one’s personal character. Continuing her look at the dizzying complexities of daily choice, in Under/Over (2015), two rolls of toilet paper on separate wooden holders hang side by side on a wall. One has its free end unfurling from over the roll, while the other has its loose lip hanging out from beneath. The installation portrays a seemingly simple yet preposterously loaded choice: “toilet paper orientation” is, in fact, an extensively debated topic, with a Wikipedia entry as long as those for important historical events. 

For Ding/Ding Dong (2015), numerous identical stools were strewn about the gallery, while a stick-figure diagram on a chalkboard invited viewers to take a seat. Sitting down on a stool activated a sound alternating between two tones. As the indistinguishable stools and dual tones suggest, life’s options may be more limited than we are led to believe; in reality, perhaps there is “no choice”
—as Sasamoto’s exhibition title declares. While seated on a stool, it was hard not to feel a bit like the anonymous stick figure in Sasamoto’s diagram, instead of an individual with free will. Her installations were humbling and illustrative of the arbitrary decisions that make up the proverbial hamster wheel of life.

Meanwhile, her video Wrong Happy Hour (2015) animated and crystallized Sasamoto’s outlook regarding the absurdity of the everyday. Filmed at a New York gallery, it shows Sasamoto navigating a makeshift bar setting, where she brews coffee, picks out eye-glasses and cleans the interior space. Each prosaic action is augmented by a curious intervention: she is seen pouring coffee onto her glasses, and putting her own body into a trashcan after sweeping the floor. In one scene Sasamoto recites a rambling soliloquy about romance and human constructs, while drawing an impromptu Venn diagram on the wall with charcoal pencil,  all with an effortless deadpan. The video ends  with Sasamoto wending her way behind the space’s back wall—which is configured to slide across  a set of bar counters that are mounted on adjacent walls
—and slowly pressing it forward so that props sitting atop the ledges are pushed into a trashcan.

During the exhibition’s closing performance, something similarly befuddling took place. Entitled Charisma vs. Strategy, it was an extension of Sasamoto’s Sleeping Charisma (2015), comprising oil-stick drawings on pillowcases, which were also shown at the gallery. Wondering when the performance would begin, confused attendees milled about the gallery. Meanwhile, Sasamoto, in a nondescript smock, mopped the floor in wide, determined arabesques; unbeknownst to the audience, she had already started. She proceeded to draw a charcoal diagram on the wall, which categorized humankind into two types: those who get by on their charisma and those who rely on strategy. In a poker-faced yet impassioned elocution, she then departed on a tangent about different types of women’s undergarments and what each indicates about their wearer. Having walked throughout the gallery, Sasamoto left a flurry of marker-drawn charts and diagrams on the walls and floor. 

The fervent proclamations that Sasamoto makes in her performances conjure up the meandering, inscrutable monologue of the rambling character Lucky from Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s 1953 absurdist comedy Waiting for Godot. As with Lucky’s seemingly nonsensical ravings, which, when parsed, offer moments of insight regarding the state of man, the audience must read between the lines of Sasamoto’s whimsical, diverse works to decipher the deeper meanings underneath her droll, entertaining antics.