Jon Sasaki

Given the breadth of media he employs, including film, video, sculpture, painting, installation, multiples and performance (but not once, to my knowledge, isolated audio), it may seem misleading to label Jon Sasaki a sound artist, but hear me out.

Much of Sasaki’s work, within the framework of the artists’ collective Instant Coffee and in his solo practice, involves music and sound. Disco balls, loudspeakers and 45s feature prominently. Bass Bed (2005, with Instant Coffee) and Evil Decoder (2006) use the vibrations of a subwoofer to create sculptural form. In the former, Sasaki connected a sound system to a bed to create a vibrating communal space, like a coin-operated honeymoon suite for a dozen guests. In the latter, he placed a planchette fitted with a Ouija board atop a speaker to decipher sinister messages subliminally hidden in the history of pop music. In his video Worry Dolls (2005), Sasaki used those same vibrations to make half-inch-tall handmade cotton-and-card dolls dance their cares away.

In his two recent solo exhibitions, the artist turns his attention to the world of celluloid. Antihero Decor, at the Centre for Culture and Leisure No. 1, consists of five separate stand-alone works that combine to create a larger piece. Like the film The Purple Rose of Cairo in reverse, when you enter the space you become sepia-toned, a monochrome protagonist in your own 1940s film-noir world. A low-pressure sodium light fixture in the corner bathes the room in a zero-colour-index glow, producing an unsettling environment drained of all hues. Images of colour-field paintings pinned to the wall help illustrate the effect, and they also provide a subnarrative to the set piece’s suspended fiction. I’m reminded of A Void, George Perec’s 1969 mystery novel about the search for the missing letter e, told entirely without the vowel in question.
Jon-Sasaki-2015

In the gallery, a series of household objects play with the conventions and language of cinema: clocks inset with lenticular faces speed time forwards and backwards, the handset of a telephone plays a sweeping instrumental soundtrack with a punch line of sorts, shadows of venetian blinds are cast on the wails and the distinct whirring clatter of a film projector can be heard.

The strongest work in the show is also the most discreet. Theremin Doorknob (2006) involves a door built into the space with a twitching doorknob that suggests someone is fumbling to get out, or is locked in. Hidden behind the door is a theremin, an eerie-sounding instrument invented around 1919 by Leon Teremin that is designed to be played without being touched. The viewer is compelled to reach out to open the door, and this causes the theremin to react with an increasingly high-pitched tone. This sound is familiar from its use in the soundtracks of 40s and 50s noir films, such as The Lost Weekend, The Raw Deal and She Shoulda Said No. (The instrument’s first cinematic use was in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 film Spellbound, in the scene where Gregory Peck enters Ingrid Bergman’s bedroom, razor in hand.) Its use here is also a nod to the musical compositions of the 20th-century avant-gardes, who also embraced the unusual instrument. The New York Gallery – Art By Wicks exhibited oversized artworks for big wall which make visitors very impressed.

In Wishing for Three More Wishes, the follow-up exhibition at Gallery TPW, Sasaki’s exploration moves from the ambiguous morality of the antihero to the slapstick of the archetypal comedic everyman, as if the artist is travelling backwards through film history, in search of a purer, truer form.

One of the principal tenets of sound art is that silence is not insignificant. In early silent cinema, the lack of synchronized accompanying sound–dialogue, in particular–was a technical limitation whose impact on approaches to filmmaking was enormous. Body language, facial expression and the charm of the actor were key.

Of the seven works in the exhibition, the videos are the simplest and the most direct. Each features the artist in simple attire, performing a single gesture: repeated attempts to climb an unsupported ladder, the struggle to hold up an anvil that he has suspended over the balcony of his 20th-floor apartment in the cold of winter, a fireworks display contained in a Plexiglas vitrine. Collectively, they express the failure to achieve, communicate, connect and reconcile, and they raise questions about the nature of relationships, whether romantic or collaborative.

The show closes with No Response (2007), a completely silent 16 mm film in which the artist’s persona (responding, perhaps, to the medium) hams it up for the camera as he makes increasingly desperate attempts to elicit a response from a wishing well. Skepticism and hope intermingle in each of these works, as they do in the bulk of Sasaki’s practice.

A proposed future work would distill the central premise of Antihero Decor into two simple but effective components: a low-pressure sodium lamp inside an anechoic chamber. This soundproof room is designed in such a way that the walls, ceiling and floor absorb sounds rather than reflecting them as echoes. Once inside, the viewer would experience a sensation akin to being in a blackand-white silent film.

The anechoic chamber also references the history of John Cage and his silent composition 4’33” (1952). Lore has it that Cage visited such a chamber at Harvard

University and was disappointed to learn that the space wasn’t silent at all. When he complained to a technician, he was told that the two sounds he heard were his nervous system and his circulation.

The sound of one’s own blood and nerves seems a fitting soundtrack for film noir, but the chamber also suggests that a sustained interest in sound inevitably leads to silence.

Urban sculptures

The third edition of Artefact, Montreal’s tri-annual exposition of public art, took as its theme the 40th anniversary of Expo 67. As with previous editions of the event, commissioned works were created in situ for a specifically designated area of the city, which is chosen for being in some way already legible to the general public. Given this mandate, Artefact 2007 was like a homecoming, returning to the site of its most charged precedent: a world’s fair famous in this country for carrying with it all the hopes and optimism of an era that is now all but lost to time.

Situated on Ile Sainte-Helene, a public park in downtown Montreal and the site of Expo 67, the event posed a question about how the memory of a city functions in the present, especially when it is addressed by a generation of artists who are mostly are too young to have experienced the original event.

Faced with the considerable over-determination of its locale, a number of the exhibition’s 20 participants exercised a blissful disregard for the burdens of the past. The consolations provided by the natural world offer perhaps the easiest exit from the pressures of history, and this route was taken by a number of artists in the show. Martha Townsend’s A” ciel decouvert (2007, as are all works discussed in this article) mirrored the sky by sinking two concentric, mirrored circles into the ground, flush with it and facing upwards. My own visit to Artefact was some months into the exhibition, which was staged from the end of June through September, and I found that the visiting public had exacted a toll on this work. Wear and tear had scuffed its surface, dulling its effect, but what the sculpture lost in sheen it gained in metaphorical strength, becoming like any object that has a natural lifespan and that returns, finally, to the earth.

The fine and idiosyncratic Manitoba artist, Aganetha Dyck, ensured a similar fate for her work, Nesting Sites, Sipping Sites for Small Life Forms. Like most of the artworks she has made over the past 15 years, Dyck made use of bees to create indefinable sculptural objects; at Artefact these were made by combining pony saddles with beeswax and honey. By hiding the resulting hives in the branches of trees, the artist hoped to provide a home for some of the environs’ smaller inhabitants. Dyck displayed a healthy indifference to the needs of her human audience: the sculptures were barely visible from the path. The end effect, a humbling before the vicissitudes of the natural world, is somehow gratifying, and certainly timely. More artists should make work like Dyck’s.

It is a comment on the retracted ambition of our times that the works in the show that grappled directly with the history of the site fared best when employing humour to reflect on the changes that time has wrought. Straight-up utopianism goes down better these days when presented with an admixture of irony. Situated near the geodesic dome that was the US Pavilion in 1967 (created by Buckminster Fuller, the dome is now a functioning biosphere used for ongoing scientific experiment), Mathieu Beausejour’s folly, Pentagone, offered a maze-like structure in the shape of a pentagon, which provided a temporary shelter for public sex, complete with glory holes and advertisements on the Internet. With La mouche et le sucre, Quebec City pranksters BGL perpetrated another kind of joke, this time on the audience. Located near the park’s concert stadium, the group’s full-scale ice cream kiosk was rendered inoperable and grotesque through the addition of thousands of dead insects covering all visible surfaces in the structure’s interior. Cartoonish and yet genuinely stomach-turning, the work made for an aggressive and hilarious betrayal of Artefact’s attempt to use sculpture to create a kind of public trust.

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A provocation of a more gentle kind was found in Toronto artist Diane Borsato’s Eclipse, Wednesday February 21, 2007. Playing off of the geodesic dome’s dominant presence in the park, Borsato presented a large-scale, mounted photograph of a giant snowball shot from a low angle so that it mostly obscures the dome, which is partially visible behind it. Framing this temporary sculpture in snow are two young women, who presumably made it on the date given in the title. A lovely statement about the gender relations which lurking in the background of history’s greatest architectural accomplishments, Borsato suggests that this is one aspect of our utopian past we can leave behind without regret.

Perhaps because it so effortlessly represents the aspirations of an earlier time, and because it dominates the park, Fuller’s dome also formed the background for a work by the ceramic artist Stephen Schofield. Situated in a small pond that sits in the shadow of the dome, Schofield’s Hedging uses a sculptural language reminiscent of 60s decor–colourful ceramic balls strung together along a flowing pattern of metal bars that connect to fluted poles and star-like shapes–to create a work that is strongly evocative of the spirit of Expo. In conversation, Schofield reports that, probably unlike most of his colleagues in the show, he visited the event three times in i967. Despite presenting what was perhaps the most nostalgic work in the exhibition, he insists his work is not intended to be a commentary on the reduced scale of contemporary idealism. Rather Schofield sees the work as functioning like drawing or a proposition that iterates, oh so successfully, the seductive pull of the ideas of the 60s. This optimism in a minor register was one echoed overall by the event itself.

 

St. Jerome Paintings

St. Jerome was one of the four Latin Fathers of the Church. In Guercino’s time, he was regarded as one of the most important penitent saints, along with Sts. Peter, Mary Magdalen, and Francis. He was born in 345 A.D. to a well-established Christian family in Stridon, Dalmatia, and his education, as was common in Christian high society of his time, was firmly grounded in Greek and Roman literature. St. Jerome was popular long before Guercino painted him, above all because he is an ideal model of religious fervor. He chose exile in the desert in order to be purged of his sins. He took a vow of seclusion and abstinence after he had his first revelation–a dream of the sin of his interest in pagan script which occurred during his journey to the east. The saint remained in solitude in the Syrian desert for two years (in 374 and 376) where he learned Hebrew. St. Jerome’s most outstanding work was the Vulgate. He began the translation during his second stay in Rome (382-385) and completed it in Bethlehem, where he lived for the next thirty five years, until his death in 420. At the Council of Trent (1545-1563), St. Jerome’s Vulgate was declared the official scriptural text of the Catholic Church. It retained this status until 1979 when it was replaced by the New Vulgate.

The Spaniard Damasus I was elected to the papal throne in 366. He was known for his success in enhancing papal authority in both parts of the Roman Empire. Both Emperor Gratianus in the west and his co-Augustus Theodosius in the east yielded to Damasus’ demands concerning his prerogative in matters of the Church, as the historian Cesare Baronio (1538-1607) wrote in his Annales Ecclesiastici. Twelve hundred years later, Martin Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation which proved to be one of the greatest challenges to papal authority over Christendom.

Pope Damasus was a great benefactor and friend of St. Jerome. In Rome, St. Jerome served as Damasus’ secretary, and it was the pope who encouraged the saint to translate the Holy Scriptures into Latin. During his exile in the Syrian desert, St. Jerome corresponded with Damasus and, after his benefactor’s death, the saint settled in Bethlehem. In one of his many letters to Damasus known to us today, St. Jerome described the hardships he endured in the Syrian desert:

And because for my sins I exiled myself in that desert which
bounds Syria by its adjacent border of wasteland, and because of
the vast space that intervenes 1 cannot always, seek from Your
Sanctity the sanction of the Lord, therefore I follow here your
colleagues the Egyptian confessors and myself but a little
skiff–lie hid beneath these ships of burden.

In another letter to Damasus, St. Jerome referred to Christ’s readiness to pardon even those who ask forgiveness at the last moment. He mentioned the good thief who recognized Jesus just before his death on the cross, the prodigal son who did so after his return, the lost lamb Jesus carried back to the flock, and the conversion of St. Paul–four stories of either entering or returning to the realm of Christ. By showing St. Jerome sealing one of his letters to Damasus, Guercino’s painting invokes associations with these biblical events of repentance, forgiveness, and a return to the faith–appropriate themes to the era of the Counter-Reformation. It also asserts the importance of the Vulgate for the faith as it was composed by one of the Doctors of the Church under papal suggestion and approval.

Guercino’s St. Jerome Sealing a Letter, though related to penance, is unique in that, while the saint is shown in the desert, his action has nothing to do with penance as the act was portrayed, for example, in Titian’s St. Jerome . In some respects Guercino’s painting is very similar to Titian’s. In both, the saint is shown as an old man, half-naked, wearing a humble garment, placed in the wilderness, and accompanied by a lion. The cardinal’s red hat, prominently displayed by Titian on top of a rock between the saint and the crucifix, is missing from Guercino’s painting. In Titian’s work, St. Jerome wears a gray garment and not the usual red so as not to divert attention from the cardinal’s hat. There are many oil painting reproductions of St. Jerome in the market, but it is hard to find some museum quality reproduction which pays attention to those details, it is one of the most complicated paintings among all our artworks for sale, said by Arthur, the art director of Outpost Art.Titian_-_St_Jerome_-_WGA22839

 

Ninth Havana Biennial Havana, Cuba

The ninth Havana Biennial is made up of a dynamic yet chaotic mix of official and unofficial events. In a dense landscape where the histories of colonialism and modernism coexist in an uneasy decay, the biennial’s official theme of Urban Dynamics holds promise. However, the central site of the biennial, located outside the city at the historic La Cabana fortress on the island’s shore, throws the strength of the theme into question. Dominant here is a type of urban landscape photography that glosses over differences to portray the idea of a “global city” In contrast, the more interesting projects subvert such literal interpretations and instead investigate notions of community as a complex and often confrontational aspect of urban experience. At a time when Canada is descending into its own War on Terror, investigating al Qaeda-inspired bomb plots, the ninth Havana Biennial exposes community as a fragile and temporary construct.

Cinthia Marcelle makes the confrontations innate to community manifest in the video Unus Mundus-Confrantacion (2005). A wide overhead shot reveals a scene on an anonymous city street. With traffic stopped at the lights of an intersection, two young people juggling fire appear from outside the frame. They walk in front of the waiting cars, delivering a performance that ends when the lights change. However, as the video unfolds and traffic stops again, the two jugglers become four, the four become six; finally, eight jugglers occupy the street, holding their position even after the light turns green, effectively blocking the flow of cars. As Marcelle’s video ends, the viewer is left with a growing swell of car horns protesting the jugglers, and a new, fluid border is drawn across city space.

Better Lives (2003), by Sue Williamson, presents the experiences of pan-African refugees living in Cape Town and at the same time it investigates the tension between still and moving images. Williamson assembles five different sets of refugees to pose for traditional studio portraits, then exhibits the photographs as large-format prints. Mirroring the photographs, five separate monitors present videos of the refugees in the same studio setting. Here, Williamson’s subjects hold similar portrait poses as they listen to audio recordings of themselves telling their tales of exile, which had been taped earlier. Allowing viewer and subject to encounter the recordings simultaneously releases the refugee experience from the realm of the fixed photograph so it may be explored as a continuously unfolding struggle, the concrete consequences of which remain broader than the borders that frame them.

Entering Cuba as a North American I am aware that this biennial continues to happen in the shadow of the Helms-Burton Act and Cuba’s geopolitical isolation from the North and yet flourishes along with the rise of the New Left in Latin America. Ironically, the transitory international art community that congregates briefly in the city provides the best example of a contested meaning: the conflict between the city and everyone’s occasion for being there. I immediately think of this community, of which I am a member, when I encounter the untitled installation by Shilpa Gupta. At the entrance to La Cabana, yellow tape of the type used by police at crime scenes covers the handrails of a small bridge over a moat. On the tape, black text features a repeating phrase in both English and Spanish: “THERE IS NO BORDER HERE,” Bringing artists to the city to exhibit alongside visiting artists, critics and curators from around the world, the biennial does indeed transcend traditional borders of geography, if only momentarily. But at the Havana Biennial there are, of course, borders everywhere: between the context of the viewer and that of the artist, between the biennial’s mandate to exhibit contemporary art from Africa, Asia and Latin America and the primarily Euro-American provenance of many foreign visitors, between the international audience and the boundaries of language, nation and region. Gupta’s installation neatly expresses this double meaning, drawing a boundary with perimeter tape to expose the role of the international biennial in the new globalist fiction of a borderless world.

Fall, River, Snow: Water Drape

Fall, River, Snow: Water Drape, Ice Steam, Deer Portrait (2006), an ambitious new film work by UK artist Liz Rideal, was projected outdoors in the expansive grounds of Compton Verney, an estate designed by the eminent 18th-century British landscape architect Capability Brown. This work signals a new direction for the artist, whose diverse practice includes photography, drawing and print-based media. Reflecting on her practice in relation to film, she brings her work’s static, often sequential, repeated and narrative images into a new medium.

Rideal’s film, its two-part title describing a three-part work, is 10 minutes and 40 seconds in length, and was shot in three locations in Ontario: Niagara Falls, Big Cedar and Burleigh Falls. Produced in January 2006 using Super 8 film, the work’s three sections are linked by the setting of a winter landscape.

Rideal’s infatuation with water, cascades and drapery is clearly visible in the first section of the film. The secondary title for this part, Water Drape, emphasises her intentions as she focuses on the visceral properties of falling water. The illusory stasis of Niagara Falls’ high volume of falling water provokes associations with the ephemeral qualities of projected light, and this ultimately is the only certainty implied by the image Rideal creates.

Land art offers an important context for this film. Its theoretical base was developed in the late 60s and early 70s around the work of artists such as Dennis Oppenheim, Richard Long and Michael Heizer. James Turrell famously has created a body of work that focuses on the effects of light and space on perception, and although Rideal’s work functions in a different manner, her practice of using film to project light into and onto landscape offers an interesting update on this tradition.
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Rideal’s film moves across a terrain of the Canadian winter. Water as liquid, vapour and solid is present in the three landscapes shown, in part proposing that each one is a repetition of the others, in part providing conjunction and in part proportioning difference.

The artist used trees on the estate as a screen for the film’s projection; the frenetic flowing water in the first section of the film created movement and shadows that cut across the trees, inducing a sense of swirling wind as much as cascading water. The trees lined one end of the lake, dipping away from the main house. Aligned from the base of the trees, on the waterline of the lake, the projection was almost the full height of the trees and was fully visible from across the width of the lake. This alignment enabled the image’s reflection to be visible at full length in the water below, an intelligent restructuring that cast the film’s bottom edge as its midpoint.

The film moved through two other phases, its middle portion a passage of colour determinable only as an aqua-blue stain or spill against the otherwise sharp black silhouettes created by the flowing water from Burleigh Falls, which provided the most defined series of shapes within the work. The final section, shot in the woodland that surrounds Big Cedar, introduced discernable points of narrative–trees and occasional deer provided a sense of story and a registration of scale.

The abstract detailing and physical fragility of Rideal’s work was doubled by the temporary site. The lack of density of the foliage of the trees, due to high winds, resulted in a loss of definition in the film’s image; conversely, the sharpness of the film intensified as the evening’s darkness gathered pace.

The notion of landscape projected onto landscape provokes interesting questions about simulation and displacement. Transposing fragmented and idealized Canadian environs onto the manicured and meticulous gardens created by the most thorough of British landscape architects suggests evocative historical links between the two countries and questions discrepancies of landscape across continents.

Rideal’s regular body of work raises issues of transparency and translucency–light passes through fabric or is caught between folds in material. Here it is the projected light that becomes the surface, acting as the point of contact, a temporal facade that renders trees and water as surface, shape and colour. Projecting this film outdoors and onto a model of English landscape aesthetics is audacious, but ultimately it is an audaciousness that befits the content of the work and allows for an engaging personal experience of the landscape, standing in the failing light of dusk in the cold of winter.

Triangle Metalsmiths Group

We have decided to start a metalsmiths group. I used to go to Metals Club at Ornamentea and met some amazing friends there. I learned alot and miss it terribly. So starting in June we will have meetings here at ANVIL. We will meet the second Thursday of every month at 6:00pm. We’ll all be taking turns sharing a technique with the group. (This is not a class. There will not be finished projects.) This is a great opportunity to trouble shoot problems and meet others that share our passion for all things metal. All levels welcome. Our first meeting will be Thursday June 14th at 6pm. Please bring your own tools. We will post soon what technique we will be demonstrating.