Killing One Bird With Half a Stone
Exhibition at the Esker Foundation, Calgary AB, September 26-December 19, 2020

Curated by Naomi Potter, Director/Curator and Elizabeth Diggon, Assistant Curator. Gallery intervention made in collaboration with Doug Haslam, Head Preparator. Installation view photos by John Dean.

Text by Elizabeth Diggon:

Jon Sasaki’s multidisciplinary practice delves into the potentially generative outcomes of failure and futility. Killing One Bird With Half A Stone centres around a selection of the artist’s videos from the past decade that depict the artist as a solitary protagonist who persistently, sometimes recklessly, refuses to accept the obsolescence, failure, or inadequacy of everyday objects. In To Change a Lightbulb (2017), Sasaki resolutely maneuvers a burnt-out lightbulb in the hopes of reconnecting the broken filament and re-illuminating the bulb, if only fleetingly. In Motivation (2013), he shakes a pendant lamp with a frayed cord, which illuminates briefly – tantalizingly – if shaken just so, before inevitably disconnecting again. When faced with the task of scaling a wall in Ladder Stack (2009), he perches multiple step ladders on top of one another, before precariously climbing out of the camera’s view, presumably stacking additional ladders ad infinitum.

The exhibition’s newest work, Improvised Travel Adapters (2018-ongoing), documents an ongoing series of temporary sculptures composed of repurposed objects, jury rigged to serve as adapters for international electric sockets. Sasaki engineers travel adapters by jamming conductive materials — safety pins, paper clips, or metal nail files — between a plug and a socket, scorning pressing warnings in hotel rooms that urge travellers to avoid using multiple devices at once. Through this flirtation with failure and possible electric shock, Sasaki references the disorientation of arriving somewhere new and being confronted with the need to improvise and make do, which is heightened by our intense need to access our electronic devices – to never let them lose power or connection.

Sasaki’s relentlessness evokes the anxiety induced by the failure of everyday objects presumably designed for ease or convenience. Thoughts of planned obsolescence and the consumer economy’s reliance on infinite purchasing and re-purchasing linger as Sasaki doggedly taps and shakes his incandescent lightbulb. In this case, Sasaki’s choice of object has particular historical resonance. The Phoebus cartel, a conglomerate of international lightbulb manufacturers, deliberately engineered incandescent lightbulbs with comparatively shorter lifespans in a bid to increase sales in the 1920s. While the cartel only persisted until the 1940s, the economic and environmental ripple effects of planned or perceived obsolescence have been vast and far-reaching.[1]

Played on an endless loop, these videos render their protagonist embroiled in an endless cycle of creative repurposing. Despite the ultimate futility of Sasaki’s actions, his perseverance transforms these objects into conduits for improvisation; divorced from their original purpose, their function shifts to a more fluid, open-ended space. The impulse to improvise has taken on new significance in 2020. As many of us contend with spending increased time at home, disconnected from our usual support networks, and compelled to avoid unnecessary trips out of the house, Sasaki’s drive to creatively and persistently repurpose reveals itself as imperative more than farce. While Sasaki’s videos at first glance operate as visual jokes that revel in the absurdities of our relationship to things, this wry humour scaffolds to a deeper meditation on our complicity in the destructive, cyclical process of consuming, discarding, and re-consuming manufactured goods.

[1] Markus Krajewski, “The Lightbulb Conspiracy,” IEEE Spectrum, 24 Sept 2014. https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-history/dawn-of-electronics/the-great-lightbulb-conspiracy.

Single channel videos included: Ladder Stack (2009), To Change a Lightbulb (2017), Motivation (2013), and Improvised Travel Adapters (2018-ongoing). A sculptural intervention connects a gallery outlet with an incompatible plug by repurposing a phillips screwdriver and luggage lock. Special thanks to Doug Haslam.