Friday, April 13, 2012 to Saturday, May 12, 2012

    Curator: Leanne L'Hirondelle Artist: Jon Sasaki Critical text by: Craig Francis Power For a brief period, I was the sole employee at an Artist Run Centre in St. John’s Newfoundland. Frankly, it wasn’t much fun. The gallery, attached to a theatre, had once operated merely as a lobby for whatever play may be running. A culture existed, therefore, of dropping one’s coat beside or sometimes on top of various pieces of art. Colour me non-plussed. What really sucked (aside from the lack of windows, miniscule budget, and general antagonism between myself and the local theatre community) was the deeply entrenched procedural nightmare under which the theatre company (as the kind of parent company) forced me to work. Buying a box of nails or a can of paint required such astonishing bureaucratic acrobatics, such a multitude of forms to fill out, that I’d wonder if we mightn’t get away with taping works to the walls or what have you, just to save time. This leads me of course to Jon Sasaki’s I’ll Try To Make It, the difference being, obviously, that Sasaki’s work, unlike mine at the ol’ gallery, is actually fun. Taking its cues from cartoonist Rube Goldberg’s absurdist designs for achieving simple tasks through extremely complicated means, the work mimics the sometimes grotesquely convoluted mechanics of how public galleries operate with dexterity and humour. The connotations of the show’s title suggest struggle, travel, the hand-made, and cleverly, art-star level success: to “make it” in the art world. All of which are addressed in Sasaki’s exhibition. If it’s true that, back in the day, Artist Run Centres (ARCs) in Canada began as an attempt by artists to claim space in the larger Canadian gallery system, that ARCs represented the workers (artists) collectively owning the factory (gallery), then Sasaki’s installation can be viewed as a critique of how such a movement has lead to the same kind of stratification and bureaucracy artists were against in the first place. His “A Machine to Replicate the Effect of a Breeze Through an Open Window” exemplifies the bureaucratic rigmarole that I’m all too familiar with through my past work experience. Rather than merely cracking open a window, a complicated mechanism of motorized parts and tubing are used instead. The labour and ingenuity involved in the execution of the piece lies in contrast to its anti-climactic result. This could be read as pertaining to trying to “make it” in the art world. Is the pay-off of the struggle for success in one’s career equal to the amount of effort one puts in? Or is one’s satisfaction in artistic recognition by the broader community something more akin to a barely detectable, replicated breeze as you walk by a closed window? Is Sasaki’s joy at showing in Gallery 101 as fleeting as that? Similarly, “A Minimalist Cube Shipped With Minimal Effort and Expense” relates to Goldberg’s inefficient schematics, but in this case, it’s Canada’s mail system which operates as the convoluted “machine.” Many of my artist friends often think of Canada Post as a kind of collaborator in the making of their work, in that whatever art goes in the mail isn’t necessarily what comes out on the other end. That is to say, Canada Post fucks it up for them. And there’s something a little Kafka-esque about the whole thing (albeit, a lot less Old World Prague) since there’s this massive, faceless governmental monster seemingly answerable to no one when your sculpture or whatever arrives at the gallery broken into a thousand shards of glass. Like Duchamp’s “Large Glass” (famously damaged while being shipped to New York), Sasaki here embraces the randomness Canada Post seems to offer, allowing his Donald Judd to become scuffed and marked in a manner which illustrates what happens to our precious art-objects outside the world of conservators or art-handlers. Furthermore, the transformation of Sasaki’s pristine white cube into something a little more messed-up looking operates as an ironic commentary on the supposed transformation of the art viewer’s consciousness through the art-experience. Through the mysterious alchemy of Canada Post, Sasaki’s piece turns from purity into dross, a line of inquiry that suggests something similar happening to the gallery-going public. The myth of Sisyphus is an over-used allegory, and in this specific case, not entirely appropriate for what Sasaki addresses with I’ll Try To Make It. Nevertheless, I’m going for it, maybe because I’d like to see a Goldbergian machine endlessly push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down to the bottom again. And, anyway, I’ll Try To Make It really does go to the heart of the seemingly futile, absurd mechanisms of art galleries and the larger art world, and the anti-climactic and contradictory nature of being a participant in it. Believe me, that’s something I picked up, but could never truly articulate as well as Sasaki does, when I worked at that gallery so long ago. Craig Francis Power, 2012