Critics’ Picks

Aki Sasamoto, Wrong Happy Hour, 2014, performance view, JTT Gallery, New York, November 2, 2014.

Aki Sasamoto, Wrong Happy Hour, 2014, performance view, JTT Gallery, New York, November 2, 2014.

New York

Aki Sasamoto

191 Chrystie St
November 2–December 14, 2014

“What is romance?” asked Aki Sasamoto in a recent performance at JTT gallery. Clad in optical blinders, she stumbled about, welcoming the audience with beer bottles in hand. Astrud Gilberto tracks played on repeat from overhead, and the packed crowd reassembled almost magnetically around Sasamoto as she moved. Her art of making room in tight places is epitomized in these shows—four of which are slated for the exhibition’s run. In the off-performance hours, the gallery is a bare-bones café with do-it yourself service—beers are in the fridge, there’s an espresso machine, and the lighting is flattering.

Another vignette: Holding up a microphone to a floor fan to amplify the blowing air, Sasamoto slowly stepped backward so the wind drew a line in space that made us part around it. Then, lying flat on the floor—her face against a stack of flapping papers with handwritten words on the top left corners—she read the words into the mic, raising her head slightly to let each page fly against the shoes of those hovering around her. Some words were accompanied by a story, and others weren’t read at all. Commonplace gestures and objects are expertly staged in an intricate choreography of contingencies and clichés.

It’s hard not to feel wooed by Sasamoto, even when she’s slamming an impossibly tiny one-by-four-foot door carved into a mobile gallery wall in your face, then pushing the wall itself forward from behind until you are forced out of the space, an absurd gesture of inhospitality with endearingly comic effect. In the performance I attended, people stayed close after being evacuated, lingering at the entrance doors. What is romance? It’s like Sasamoto’s performances, where everything is suspended but somehow still secure; each object and nugget of space is infused with a new promise.