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Jon Sasaki: Don't Try This at Home

Jon Sasaki is the Charlie Chaplinesque little guy struggling with his Sisyphean challenges. Only the things he’s trying to achieve fall more into the realm of the bizarre and ridiculous than the practical. 

Jon Sasaki is everyman struggling to just get the job done. But being an artist, of course he’s playing with metaphors. And while we end up reflecting on many of life’s truisms through his work, we also have an intriguing time getting there.

Sasaki is a multidisciplinary artist which means he’ll play with anything and everything. Rooted in performance, his works are in turns bizarre, funny, amazing, and mad - in other words charming.

It’s not surprising that he’s Canadian, bringing the self-effacing comic traditions of SCTV (Second City Television) to the art world at large. For example, A Clock Set to 24 Hours Into The Future  is exactly that :

“Of course, on a four-numeral digital clock, tomorrow's time appears indistinguishable from “today's time,” and therein lies a small bit of levity that is intended to open up a range of poetic interpretations.”

Hang in there is based on the circa 1968 poster "Hang in There, Baby" of a cat hanging valiantly from a horizontal pole. While the original poster was meant to encourage people to persevere and not give up, Sasaki's video takes the message into the realm of reality where tenacity and success are not necessarily directly related. (In case you were wondering, no animals were injured in the making of this video and the cat apparently really enjoyed himself.)

A Machine to Replicate the Effect of a Breeze Through an Open Window takes the project of getting fresh air into an apartment to extremes, pointing out the blinkeredness of solving simple problems with unnecessarily complicated solutions.

In Hand Catching Fireworks Sasaki tries to catch hold of live firecrackers. It seems like the dumbest thing to do, but how often do we try to seize a fleeting moment that gives us pleasure. 

And then there's Performance to Double the MOCCA's Visitor Figures in which Sasaki humorously takes aim at the those who insist that the true measure of success of an art gallery can only be determined by the daily count of visitors, ignoring of the quality and significance of the exhibitions themselves.

Bouncy Highrise, Sasaki’s most recent work, was an improv performance in downtown Toronto. Stacking inflatable bouncy castles in front of a low-rise building (the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in fact) which has been slated for demolition and redevelopment as a highrise condo, Sasaki poignantly comments on both this fanciful determination to meet Sisyphean challenges and the madness of increasing urban density.

It reminds me of Ladder Stack, one of my favourites. In the video Sasaki is seen trying to reach a high spot in his studio by methodically piling mid-size aluminum ladders one on the other and trying to climb them. This Charlie Chaplin moment resonantes with pathos as his determination is matched only by his powerful characterization of the fool or court jester - which of them Sasaki himself represents is left to us to decide.