in conversation with
Giving a gift
A mytho-poetic experience
Living in a cabin next to an active volcano
I first met Aki Sasamoto in July of 2010 when I visited her studio, a space she was sharing on Spring Street in SoHo. Instead of showing me documentation of past works, she performed for me alone. Like an eccentric professor of sociology, she spoke passionately as she diagrammed different types of people, explaining their characteristics and fleshing out a social map that hovered between absurdity and realism. I was her sole pupil and I was fascinated and convinced by her imagination. Electric and engaging, she dashed around the room and concluded the visit by climbing into a cardboard tube that could barely accommodate her slight shoulders. The performance was comical and, for me, transcendent.
Aki was born in 1980 inYokohama, Japan, and moved to New York to complete her MA at Columbia University. She became interested in performance as a teenager while studying the classical Japanese arts of koto, kyogen, and buyo (musical instruments, theater, and dance). Aki’s performances often address identity, family, and social norms. She imbues her work with the minutiae that she is obsessed with at the time—such as people’s habits, mathematical concepts, or food—and incorporates sculptural elements that she scavenges and makes herself, which become environments that also stand on their own. Her practice is a unique fusion of Japanese and American sensibilities. She attributes her impulse to “micromanage” objects to the influence of her Japanese upbringing. She sees the American influence upon her work in her ability to appropriate materials she finds in the street, and to work in multiple media.
Miles Seaton was born in 1979 in Porterville, California. He fell in love with singing during Sundays spent at church, and this evolved into a love for noise of all kinds. After moving to Seattle at age fifteen, Miles began performing in punk and hardcore bands. In 2002, he started the experimental music collective Akron/Family with Seth Olinsky, Dana Janssen, and Ryan Vanderhoof. Miles sings, writes songs, and plays the bass, as well as a rotation of countless instruments and improvised sound-machines. Acting as the band’s hype-man, Miles will coax or demand the audience’s participation through call-and-response and performative acts that are often spontaneous and unruly.
Akron/Family’s live shows are known for dematerializing—even pulverizing—the fourth wall: audience members are often invited to pound a drum onstage, or a band member may leap off the proscenium and perform in the audience. Recently, audiences have participated in visualization exercises set against a slow and heavy electronic beat. The shows often spin off into chaotic and memorable events, such as a 2008 appearance at South by Southwest that concluded with the band leading the audience in a musical parade outside the venue and onto the streets of Austin.
I introduced Miles Seaton and Aki Sasamoto so that they could share their thoughts on performance. I hoped we’d find some common language. On a Sunday afternoon in February, they came to my tiny studio apartment on Perry Street in Manhattan. Miles used my espresso machine to make delicious cappuccinos. We ate dates and colorful Italian cookies as we talked.
AKI SASAMOTO: At first I was performing in English, then at some point the piece became Japanese, then in the last performance I was going back and forth between Japanese and English, on a whim, where it was all improvised and I didn’t plan what came out. Everything got mixed up and I didn’t care about the audience. I realized the context doesn’t change, the framework doesn’t change, but the air inside it can change. It was such an interesting moment for me because I understood that my role is to keep blowing into this context. Because who else will? [Laughs]
MILES SEATON: When you say it’s your job to keep blowing into this context, do you feel that the context includes you as a performer? Are you breathing air into yourself, who is part of this context? Or do you feel like you are inside the context? Or do you feel like you are watching the context?
AS: At some point in Tokyo, I just felt like the installation accommodated me. All of a sudden I became another person. I entered the context, and it was bigger than me, but it’s funny, because I made it.
MS: Yeah, but now it’s living, it’s its own living thing.
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