Image: © Julia Waugh
Tokyo in Springtime, outside the temples are surrounded by flowers of Jasmine and pieces of cut paper that move gently in the breeze, maybe they are there to catch spirits accumulated in the stories of a city?
Before Sachiko Abe became an artist she was part of the Self-Defence Forces of Japan, this story did not begun here, but starts again in another time with an exposure. When sitting in a presentation by Bernd Behr that included a reference to Hiroshima, I remembered Paul Virilio in his book War And Cinema had articulated the idea of exposure, that is the exposure I refer to: a shock in history where ideas were released like stumbling prisoners onto a future world. In the measurement of time for an image to reveal itself we must always attend to the decay of meaning. To allow this memory to pass after 911 would be a cruel forgetting, New York City was still in shock when I first encountered Sachiko Abe at PS1 in 2004, in cutting the time between one story and another, we could ask whose story is a work of art anyway?
She said she stopped being a soldier because she did not like the act of simulated violence and could no longer push the bayonet of her rifle into a dummy. “The life of an artist seemed so free”, becoming inspired by Gallery Soap and the artists she met there, Sachiko Abe had decided on a new career. In her first performance Elevator Girlfriend, she wore the uniform that referenced the attendants who worked in the department stores during a boom time of the Yen economy. Many aspired to this dream job and the performance reflected such ambition with a noticeable twist: the hostess and her constant imaginings detoured the audience's mechanised journey and in so doing questioned our expectations of service industries and perhaps even relational ethics.
It was Brion Gyson who showed William Burroughs the technique of the cut up, in taking a thing apart is when something is revealed as absence, as in measurement this equates to the production of time. The reading of data streamed in the dead of night when other theories are half asleep, in this cut between scenes can an image remain?.
After the success of Elevator Girlfriend, Sachiko Abe’s next performance invited an audience to participate with a staged act of transgression. In Jub Jub people were asked to force blades into the body of a doll and in so doing perhaps reveal the feelings they have learnt to repress. One might be tempted to see in this a prediction of the new gothic that dominates mainstream media, Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Women Of The Dunes remixed by the half forgotten shadows of a post apocalypse. In 1948 Tatsumi Hijikata played the recorded scream of Antonin Artaud to Kazuo Ohno and the dance begun. In this Theatre Of Cruelty where The Ring can become a deadly feedback loop between fiction and fact, she cuts as if in a dream, the scissors begin at the periphery of a white sheet of paper and spiral towards the angled centre.
Rewind and play that again, about the time in the Self-Defence Forces, she speaks to neutralise the stereotype, to joke about the misconceptions of her and what her work means. She knows about the artist Yayoi Kasuma, so many have compared them, she laughs because for her creativity is not about beauty but instead a resistance to the will of others. In order to contemplate and be trained to take a life, one begins a process of self abstraction and within this is an understanding that this is an appropriate lesson for our world. It is a discipline of thought she explores as an artist, although having not formally attended an institution until later. I hear the artist speak and it is concise, playfully reminding us of the cultural tropes that are the norm, like the restrictions of objectivity placed on a woman's body or the precision needed to frame and identify a military target.
The story of a name Sachiko: a name that translates into English as smiling child, a name given to a baby found by a roadside in early Spring and raised by a family of Shamans. A disappeared story of a previous name, a world turned upside down in penance for the incapacity of this story to bear words. This is the reduction of a page to a line, a series of lines that turn the medium of communication into threads. The rhythm of the work seeks eternity in the echo that recedes to a place that can always be elsewhere: the exposure outside of time and the rupture of birth and death.
The artist defines their work through persistence, the critical texts sliced together between quotation marks are the noisy debris of a discourse. The work of art cuts up the world and leaves the relics of significance in it’s place. With the history of performance these issues become complex, the artist creates possibilities for an audience to loose the artwork in an effort to perceive it, there is nowhere to go expect within the experience. This concept of course has multiplicities and lingers in questions of perception, division and synthesis.
There is a hospital room where a patient is waiting for bandages to be removed, a pink bow holds a white tag in place, it has a name and a date of birth. These are the endless whispers that pulls everything together in stories, on a bed where she was bound for her own safety, where she used blades to free her arms from these ties. Now when performing the sound of the cutting scissors reminds her of the mask she wore that pumped oxygen into her lungs. A flight from hospital in a nightdress took her to the city where she wandered looking for signs of a life, instead she found a collage of memories that were not hers, we can only ask what had happened since her training as a soldier? It was here that she then became interested in telling stories, or rather in the performance of stories and the whispers that precede the plume of incense, before it is all over and the dead become names that disappear into time.
The white paper on a wall with the artist name and date of birth.
All stories are complicated, they are fiction, this one starts with scissors cutting into the page.
“Is what you see what I see?”
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