‘The Material Fights Back’: Watch Aki Sasamoto Sculpt the Uncontrollable

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Aki Sasamoto: An Artist Walks into a Bar." © Art21, Inc. 2019.

What happens when you lose control? For many individuals, such a situation can be anxiety-inducing, to say the least. For the Japanese-born, New York-based artist Aki Sasamoto, losing control meant an opportunity to create art, effectively taking back the reins on the aspects of her life she had agency over.

In an exclusive interview filmed as part of Art21’s exclusive series New York Close Up, Sasamoto explained how an unexpected medical diagnosis, followed by a surprise pregnancy, threw her world into a tailspin, and resulted in experiences she mined for new work. Long-fascinated with bar culture and drinking, Sasamoto’s health required her to abstain from alcohol, which led her to focus on the physical objects, like whiskey glasses and barstools, that are often ignored and taken for granted.

“Glass, [is] so finicky as a material,” Sasamoto said, laughing. “I like that aspect of glass. That’s precisely what I’m interested in my own studio, too: How to control the uncontrollable. The material always fights back.”

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Aki Sasamoto: An Artist Walks into a Bar." © Art21, Inc. 2019.

Production still from the Art21 “New York Close Up” film, “Aki Sasamoto: An Artist Walks into a Bar.” © Art21, Inc. 2019.

Sasamoto equated the fickle nature of glass with the experience of motherhood, with its inherent complexities and most mundane beauty. “I never planned to be a mother,” the artist said, “but I am now… Whatever I thought I had control over, whatever I thought I was, will change in front of me. That, to me, is exciting—in life and in sculpture.”

Opening on December 6 at the Queens Museum in New York is “Aki Sasamoto: Point Reflection,” a selection of work by the artist that combines her deadpan humor and playful approach to sculpture and installation. The exhibition includes Past in a future tense (2019), which centers on the whiskey bottles that sparked such inspiration for the artist. Air-table technology, like that which propels a puck on an air hockey table, is used in the exhibition to physically animate otherwise inanimate objects, bringing the artist’s rich imagination to life. A cacophony of visual effects, sound, and objects synthesize in a madcap chorus of art and creativity.


Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series New York Close Up, below.Aki Sasamoto: Point Reflection” is on view at the Queens Museum from December 6, 2023–April 7, 2024. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of news-making artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, like New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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