Flight of the Mosquito

Catherine Damman on Aki Sasamoto’s Skewed Lies / Parallel Stare

Aki Sasamoto, Skewed Lies / Parallel Stare, 2015. Performance view, Luxembourg & Dayan, New York, June 26, 2015. Aki Sasamoto. Photo: Allison Hale.

MAKE WAY FOR AKI SASAMOTO. Like her monologues, the artist’s body ricochets through the three-story townhouse that is Luxembourg & Dayan. She squeezes through narrow spaces, hangs from sculptures, and gallops across the building’s length. Occasionally Sasamoto pauses to accommodate shuffling gallery patrons; in other moments, she barrels through them.

Narrative is here also a thing to be gnarled and made nimble: Are you following along? Perched on the stairs, she begins with a lively discussion about mosquitos. Her affable, self-deprecating charisma—the bedside manner of a stand-up comedian—turns sadistic as she dreams up better ways to kill the insects (put a container over one and watch it suffocate overnight).

The present work, she confesses, is about coincidence: the strange happenstance of bookstore shelving, or a bewildering letter from a long-lost brother. Out of the blue, he’d like her to attend his extravagant wedding and is offering to pay for her flight, dress, and hair. Now a judge in the Supreme Court of Japan, his letter admonishes her not to think about criminal activity, much less do it.

She dashes up the stairs where the audience finds her mostly in the dark, reading from Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal (the tome that’s been following her in bookshops), squatting and hunched over the only light. Next she crams herself into a contraption made from three plastic milk crates; the third comes over the top of her head like a hood, snapping shut with the artist inside. Immediately, I think about how easy it is for women to contort into small, uncomfortable spaces. Yet, in Sasamoto’s hands (or rather, around her body), containment becomes darkly funny, even freeing: Reading by tiny flashlight, she chugs the entire vessel forward with her own locomotion before haphazardly spilling out, limbs splayed.

We move toward a sculptural maze of lead pipes, desks—one dangling precariously upside-down—and other elements hung with string, such as several pairs of kitchen tongs. This section retains and elaborates elements from her 2010 performance in MoMA PS1’s boiler room, part of the third iteration of “Greater New York.” Still rambling, Sasamoto is by turns aerobic, manic, and incandescent.

Sasamoto tells us she decided to attend mosquito school (to learn the ways of her enemy, naturally). Admission was denied, but she was determined to study harder and try again. In her entomological research, it seems that the artist has learned a great deal about the blood-sucking parasites. Comparing mosquitos to comedians, she declares: “Mosquitos smile, but don’t know how to laugh,” and the thought hums again that mosquitos might be a cipher for certain—particularly annoying—modes of comportment that make up femininity (albeit a particularly classed one; they also get massages and eat granola in the morning, per the artist’s taxonomy). When she says, “mosquitos stroke egos, even of people they despise,” I am certain.

This reading is undoubtedly too reductive: Sasamoto’s weltanschauung is too zany, too fantastically reckless to cleave to any such gender binaries. All this is performed against the monstrous black light of several “bug zappers,” consumer goods designed for relatively antiseptic, controlled murder. (Technically they are “electrical discharge insect control systems”; search for them in your local home improvement store and read their disconcertingly-phrased boasts about “killing radius.”) Dexterously roosting atop one of the pipes, Sasamoto inserts a long straw into her mouth, connecting her to the killer light. I feel the audience cringe at the strength of its wicked hiss.

On the third and final floor we’re greeted by Sasamoto’s collaborators, musician Matt Bauder (on saxophone) and actress Jessica Weinstein. All three have donned astonishingly hideous auburn wigs. While Bauder plays, Weinstein and Sasamoto steal lemons and limes back and forth on the table, reading aloud passages from Genet. An autobiography chock full of lies, the book is also a lush paean to Genet’s virtues of homosexuality, theft, and betrayal. The fragmented, out of context quotations are here occasionally subject to artistic coincidence. Genet’s first line: “A convicts’ clothes are striped pink and white,” is nicely repeated in the plaid culottes framing the artist’s body.

Then, Bauder’s sax is without sound: all pursed lips and slapping fingers and impotent spit. Sasamoto recites, “the violence of his sex,” and impudently plucks a lime from within the brass phallus.

The work ends abruptly after a frenzied sprint, the artist and Weinstein draping red cords across the building’s length, creating channels to be zipped along. Skew lines, from which the work’s title (Skewed Lies / Parallel Stare) partially wrings its name, do not intersect and are emphatically not parallel. They can exist only in three or more dimensions and cannot share a plane. It’s an apt metaphor for the wild logic of Sasamoto’s cosmos. In it, she is the protagonist, the smiting deity, and the noble criminal all at once. See the movie in your head (Sasamoto has all the magnetism of a Hollywood star): She’s driving along the coast somewhere, staring down the barrel of some gun, living outside the law. It’s a seductive, deadly glow.

Aki Sasamoto’s Skewed Lies / Parallel Stare was organized by Tamar Margalit and ran June 26 and July 1, 2015 at Luxembourg & Dayan in New York.