Centrifugal March, a Performance by Aki Sasamoto
by Manjari Kaul
Centrifugal March By Aki Sasamoto
at Lalit Kala Academy
On the 21st of January
According to ancient Egyptian burial practice, the dead were buried with certain goods that were thought to accompany them through their afterlife. These objects could range from everyday goods such as pottery and grain to luxury items such as furniture and even jewels. In certain Mongolian Buddhist traditions, after death the body is taken away from the village and laid out in the open with a stone outline placed around it. Once natural predators have consumed the body, the stone outline forms a referent to the dead person. In contemporary Buddhist traditions in Japan, the corpse is put on dry ice contained in a casket with a selection of items that the deceased was fond of such as candies or even cigarettes. Hence it feels almost universal that after a person’s death certain objects become referents to the deceased one. The nature of this transference may be so complete that it begins to feel that in her afterlife she is the rocking chair she would sit on while she told us tales of her childhood adventures or that he somehow is the black umbrella that he never ventured out without even on clear days.
When you are in the midst of a chaotic arrangement of unrelated objects suspended from the ceiling, strewn on the floor, or jutting out of the wall, you hardly imagine what appears to be a physics experiment will turn out to be a deliberation on death and memory. Aki Sasamoto, in her performance, Centrifugal March, yokes Classical mechanics with the philosophy of death as she explains the phenomenon under whose influence “Humans become Objects with its Centrifugal Force.”(1)
Lumps of ice tied from the ceiling with colourful shoe-laces melt, water droplets falling into steel bowls placed below the ice. With the background score of the dripping water, Sasamoto darts across the room with her marker, at one point assuming the role of a school-teacher-like character, explaining centrifugal and centripetal force by drawing a spiral diagram on the wall. At another moment in the performance, she gracefully steered a discomfortingly coffin-like cupboard with wheels around the room, breathlessly talking about death, funeral rituals and remembrance of the deceased through their possessions. Sasamoto engages her audience as she deliriously bores holes through a huge bar of ice and talks of the ritual of the body of the dead being preserved on ice. In her staccato movements around the room she threw a dart at the spiral diagram on the wall and almost hit an audience member. Watching her furiously stab ice blobs arranged in the room, one gets the sense that she is not aware of her audience. Sasamoto talks of her grandmother’s pearl necklace as something that she prizes and treasures after the relative’s demise. The object becomes more than a memorial, it somehow takes the place of the person altogether.
In her research of death rituals in India, the U.S.-based Japanese artist visited crematoriums, doctors and astrologers to note the matter-of-fact way in which death is dealt with in the country. In her spiral diagram she seemed to depict her perception of this attitude through its origin in the common Hindu and Buddhist belief that life and death are an unending cycle. The performance worked as a meta-critical piece as it pointed towards the very nature of performance art — a life lived twice over. The characteristics of a live performance are akin to human life in Sasamoto’s philosophy – lived through a mortal body and then embodied in a material object that becomes a referent to the deceased. A performance must be ephemeral, yet the second time around the performance is lived through memory. Thus performance is a kind of death. Aki Sasamoto’s performance writes an epitaph for an art form that must perform its own death to be remembered ad infinitum.
1. Aki Sasamoto in her artist’s statement on the performance piece, Centrifugal March.