Artist Jon Sasaki dishes on his custom installations appearing at Massive Party, taking over the AGO on April 27.
The event planners at the AGO might be big HBO fans, because just as Westworld ends (the much-hyped drama about a theme park populated with ultra-realistic human robots), our annual Massive Party is also bringing human and machine together.
On April 27, Machine Age Massive – a fundraiser to support the AGO’s ongoing conservation, public programming and learning projects – will turn the Gallery into three artistic zones: Industrial, Digital, and Space, where partygoers can snack on hors d’oeuvres, dance to tunes from the DJ, and surround themselves with contemporary installations and performances (all included in the ticket price, a portion of which is tax-deductible – on sale now!).
Toronto-based artist Jon Sasaki – whose projects often mix installation, video and live performance in a way that turns failure into fun – was tasked with the Industrial Age zone (located in the Weston Family Learning Centre). We spoke to Jon about his projects involving an enormous “smokestack” and an interactive dance floor, and the importance of humour in his art.
AGO: How did you get involved in the 2017 Massive Party? (And have you been and/or created an installation for it before?)
Jon: I have contributed work to Massive Party in the past and really enjoyed the process of developing a new site-specific piece for an interesting context. When the AGO approached me about doing something larger in scale I leapt at the opportunity. I love the event; the energy and the enthusiasm that people bring are very rewarding.
AGO: What does Industrial Age mean to you?
Jon: The theme of Industrial Age dovetails very neatly into much of the work I’ve been making for the past few years. Recent projects in Detroit, Sudbury and Ulsan (a factory city in South Korea) have looked at the legacies of the industrial era, and the opportunity for radical re-evaluation, creative possibility and renewal that often exist within decline and change.
AGO: Can you describe the piece you’re creating for this year’s party?
Jon: For this year’s Massive Party, I am working on two pieces, the first being an installation and performance that will move throughout the Concourse Level. Dancers will wrangle an enormous 90 metre-long inflatable smokestack, to tragicomic effect. It will be an improvised performance, lasting the entire party or until the dancers pass out from fatigue, whichever comes first.* As I envision it, the dancers will be both the tender custodians of the smokestack, while at the same time appearing constrained and smothered by it.
The second piece will be an interactive installation on the dance floor. Any guest who is willing to physically exert themselves a little (or a lot) will be able to make the party exponentially better for everyone.
* Editor’s note: No dancers will be harmed during this performance 😉
AGO: Your work is described as involving “self-exhaustive systems of trial and error” – how is that factoring into your work for Massive Party?
Jon: Trial and error will figure heavily into the smoke stack performance, I’m guessing very few people have ever had to wrestle a 90 metre inflatable smoke stack through a large crowd, so there is probably no playbook on that. The dancers will have to figure it out as they go, problem solve and overcome obstacles in the moment. April 27 could in fact be the first time the dancers ever even see the inflatable, although I haven’t fully decided yet. Either way, what guests will see on the night will not be a polished choreography, but an exhibition of spontaneous creativity and perseverance.
AGO: What makes humour and pathos such an important feature of your work?
Jon: Pathos is a relatable part of the human condition, expressing it or seeing it expressed can be a comforting reminder that we are not alone when things go sideways. The use of humour can be a way into the work, an agreeable starting point beyond which maybe other aspects of the work can open up. It can be a means to an end or an end in itself. Humour can be uplifting, empowering, coercive, and menacing all at once. For me, humour and pathos combined amplify one another; it always feels like a total which is more than the sum of the parts.
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