A Likeness Has Blisters: Aki Sasamoto at CCS

by Elizabeth Crawford

Installation view from   A LIKENESS HAS BLISTERS  , Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, April 29 – May 27, 2012. Master’s thesis exhibition curated by Leora Morinis. Photo: Chris Kendall 2012.

Aki Sasamoto, trained boxer, begins her performance by describing the way she does not look into her opponent’s eyes. Actually, she says, I’m not really a good fighter. While she says this she is not looking at us. She is focusing on specific tasks she has set up for herself with objects in the installation (a suspended towel sculpture with casts of lemons inside, a half full boxing bag, two stools, a mortar and pestle, ice dangling over a small metal bowl). 

Sasamoto is performing as a part of the show A Likeness Has Blisters at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (a part of the Bard CCS graduate program thesis show) curated by Leora Morinis, which also consists of a video installation of “Gabriel” by Agnes Martin and a book, Molasses co-written by Morinis and Sasamoto. “Gabriel” is being projected on a wall that diagonally bisects the room at the backside of Sasamoto’s performance and sculptural installation. Sasamoto continues talking almost as though she were giving a lecture to little kids, or ants on the floor. She seems to be asking: what equates? We feel, as she speaks, like casual onlookers but I know that she is asking: do you equate?

The video, “Gabriel” shows a boy (Gabriel) walking up a mountain. Agnes Martin described the film herself as: a boy who climbs a mountain and all the beautiful things he sees. Aki Sasamoto seems like this boy. Aki Sasamoto seems to move through us the way the boy moves through the flowers.

At the most climactic moment of the performance Sasamoto begins throwing ice picks at the wall and asking: What should I become? Thinking of the video I wonder if the boy should become the flowers he goes through. Should Aki become the pestle and mortar? The block of ice? Should she become an ice pick that sticks into the wall? Sasamoto throws an ice pick at the wall and says: Maybe I should become a diamond ring. The ice pick crashes to the ground.

What Aki Sasamoto should become is a puzzle, a monster puzzle as Gertrude Stein writes of sugar in her poem “Sugar” inserted in the program where the title “A Likeness Has Blisters” comes from. Sugar and sweetness are important here, as Morinis and Sasamoto have called their publication “Molasses”, which ends with the line: “To me this feels unbearably sweet”. How do we answer the sweet question of what Sasamoto should become? Sasamoto herself has begun to draw a diagram with an idea with a bubble around it and the self on the other side of the paper. The idea is outside the self, she insists. The idea is the source of what Sasamoto should become. We are not solving this puzzle but as Stein puts it in “Sugar” wet crossing it.

Wet crossing and a likeness, any likeness, a likeness has blisters, it has that and teeth, it has the staggering blindly and a little green, any little green is ordinary.

It seems that Aki Sasamoto, at one point wearing glasses with lemon slices for eyes, is staggering blindly. She remains rigorous though. She reminds me of a personal trainer or a gym teacher I must have deep inside my imagination. I know that Aki Sasamoto is fighting me without looking me in the eye.

At one moment during the performance Sasamoto almost hits a woman in a salmon colored shirt by throwing a half-spherical block of ice suspended by a rope of multi-colored shoe strings at her. The woman does not move when she sees Sasamoto aiming the ice at her. It is as though the woman expects in this space, this art space, nothing can happen to her–that Aki Sasamoto will not hit her. But the woman in the salmon colored shirt seems to have fallen for Aki Sasamoto’s trick. It is as though she is a casual onlooker, an ant on the floor—as though she isn’t part of the equation. The woman in the salmon colored shirt seems to think that a performance that is so sweet cannot hurt her. But I was there. I knew Aki Sasamoto would hit me if she had to because I was the object she was going to become. And I was the idea that stood outside of her.

A Likeness Has Blisters will be up through May 27th at the CCS Museum at Bard College. There you will find traces of Sasamoto’s performance, her sculptures, “Molasses” and the film by Agnes Martin (and when you watch the film think of Sasamoto watching it, watching the little boy and saying: that is me). In Molasses, Morinis and Sasamoto describe unbearable sweetness as a feeling that happens when something acts differently than you’ve asked it to. For example, when you feel close to something and suddenly its closeness produces a blister on your skin. I am reminded of the part in Jean Genet’s Miracle of the Rose where the main character’s body is invaded by four little men. At one point one of the men says to the others: “The heart–have you found the heart?” “Finally,” writes Genet, “the four dark men came to a mirror on which was drawn (obviously carved with the diamond of a ring) a heart pierced by an arrow. No doubt it was the portal of the heart.” Watching Sasamoto is like watching someone traveling around inside of you looking for the portal of the heart. In A Likeness Has Blisters the blister is the portal—the meeting place for separate things to have sweet reunions both in likeness and in pain.



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