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Features / April 30, 2009

Jon Sasaki: Positive Thinking

Jon Sasaki Ladder Stack 2009 Still

What happens when a motley cast of 26 costumed mascots is turned loose on the field of an otherwise empty sports stadium for 12 hours of non-stop, crowd-rousing enthusiasm? Fantastic chaos? Cheerleading burn out? That’s exactly what Toronto artist Jon Sasaki aimed to find out—with surprising results—in his 2008 Nuit Blanche performance ensemble, I Promise It Will Always Be This Way. In the end, it was a standout event as the mascots drew spectators into an unexpectedly gung ho if slightly bemused back-and-forth response. Instead of cynically proving the ennui-laden fatigue and ultimate futility of a non-event spectacle, Sasaki’s performers and audience endured. As he notes on his website, “What was intended to be a much darker comment on futility and pathos ended up being a very moving moment of social generosity.”

This potential for positive outcomes in seemingly futile endeavours rings through “Some Unabashed Optimism,” an exhibition of Sasaki’s work on view at Latitude 53 in Edmonton. Take for instance his Ladder Stack, a video performance in which Sasaki scales what is presumably a white gallery wall via a tower of carefully positioned stepladders. Set in a loop, his rising-and-restarting progress strikes an increasingly delicate balance between doubt and the refusal to quit. To similar effect, Sasaki’s Untitled (Vacuum) shows the artist in the endless task of hoovering up a floor covered in confetti, which only spews out again from a hole in the vacuum bag. As each action turns on itself and starts again, a persistent belief remains: maybe this next time around things will finally work out.

One of Sasaki’s mascot costumes slumped in the middle of the gallery provides the anchor to the show. Contrasted against the past glories of projected footage from I Promise It Will Always Be This Way, its inert form patiently awaits reanimation and just one more chance to prove that anything can happen with a little effort. (10248 106 St, Edmonton AB)