To document Sasa’s work is to create a recursion—those nested images-within-images created by videotaping monitors.
Oi-shi, Oi-shi, 2008
The Seoul-based artist is known for his obsessive documentation of documentation, like his recent piece for the Nam June Paik Art Center’s inaugural festival in 2008. Oi-shi, Oi-shi, seems like simple a glowing signboard mounted like an exit sign but in the context of a document, the work reveals more. “After Nam June Paik passed away, there was this article in a Korean newspaper about his last moment. The article explained that his last meal was unagidon and that his last word was ‘oishi oishi,’ Japanese for ‘delicious.’ I wanted to do something with the words ‘oishi oishi’ ever since, and when the NJP center contacted me for the exhibition, I thought this was the perfect moment to show this work.”
Heavy Metal (News) Around the World, a book compiling 30 fanzines from the Korea Heavy Metal Club circa 1988 to 1991, shows the often collaborative nature of Sasa’s work. Says Sasa of the project, which was done in collaboration with South Korean design duo Sulki and Min, “In the late ’80s and ’90s in Seoul, [heavy metal fans] were craving information and they found creative ways to get it. Many of [the ‘zines]—photo copied and even handwritten—are direct translations from Japanese and American magazines. The ‘zines were rare, handmade items.”
Also rare and handmade, Sasa has also done work on “Curating Degree Zero Archive,” a traveling exhibition started in the mid-2000s whose aim is to explore “critical and experimental approaches to curating contemporary art.” Sasa’s contribution was to take, along with fellow artist MeeNa Park, all of the materials gathered by the exhibition—that’s 1,000-plus—and categorize every single one of them with an ISBN number, and then reorganize the exhibition all based on those numbers.
Sasa featuring Jeong Mee Yoon, Things that Make My Life Worth Living, 2004.
So why the obsession with documenting and cataloguing? Sasa’s only answer is terse: “Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Lyubishev.” He’s referring to an obscure, time-obsessed Russian entomologist who kept fastidious daily records of his activities, down to the minute. And while Sasa hasn’t gone that far yet, he is definitely moving in that direction with his “Our Spot” projects.
“Our Spot” is a series of exhibitions and attendant documentation in book form. While the theme for this issue is “A Day in the Life,” “Our Spot” could more accurately be described as “A Day in Someone Else’s life.” The project contains documentation of the artist’s fastidiously recorded and photographed daily travels, but differ from travel journals in a major way: his every move has been calculated and predetermined by someone else.
At 8am, go to the convenience store across Queens Blvd. Buy the Newsday. Pay special attention to the Sports section. Check movie listings and circle two movies to see around noon today. Discard the rest. This can be done over breakfast.
“The ‘Our Spot’ project has an ‘initiating person’ who tells me what to do, where to go, what to eat, whom to meet, and so on,” Sasa explains. “For each city, I carefully choose a person; I look for someone who used to live in the city but hasn’t been back to that city for years. Keh [Sung-Soo, my cousin] was perfect for ‘Our Spot New York’ because his family immigrated to the US in 1979 and he spent most of his time in New York, but then moved back to Seoul and hasn’t been to New York for almost three years.”
To ensure that he, the “executing person,” has absolutely no prior knowledge of what he’s about to engage in—which might lead to anticipation or some subsconscious planning on his part—Sasa avoids checking the docket until the last minute. “The [initiating] person makes itineraries for three days, and each itinerary is given to me on the morning of that day, by email. Only then do I print it and start the project.”
Unlike most artists, Sasa’s process is completely transparent: The “Our Spot” books are divided into three distinct sections, with the first being “Instructions,” where the “Mission Sets” are printed exactly as Sasa has received them. Keh’s instructions for “Our Spot New York” are amusingly bizarre in both their specificity and range of experiences, containing everything from quotidian tasks to precise meal requests and random intelligence-gathering. Some examples:
“At 8am, go to the convenience store across Queens Blvd. Buy the Newsday. Pay special attention to the Sports section. Check movie listings and circle two movies to see around noon today. Discard the rest. This can be done over breakfast.
“If you have 30 minutes before the first movie starts, go back to the intersection of Austin and Continental; find the pizza store across the street. Buy two regular slices and a medium-sized coke. Slightly spray garlic powder on the pizza.
“When you hit Broadway, head south. Do window shopping, then find Tower Records. Go up to the 3rd floor to the Jazz section. Ask for an album of Charlie Watts Band, the drummer for the Rolling Stones.”
The second section of the book is titled “Travelogue” and has time-stamped photographs and text describing the execution of each and every task. Which is not to say that everything has gone smoothly: “Because there is no planning on my part, it gets very exhausting to finish the day,” Sasa explains. “Everything gets very challenging: Unexpected weather, the initiating person not planning the time properly, trying to find places when provided with false information, taking pictures where I am not supposed to, eating too many meals, and other things. It gets to be like the art version of ‘Survivor.’”
The book’s third section, “Souvenirs,” contains scans of every plastic bag, newspaper, flyer, business card, takeout menu, placemat, ticket stub, and receipt acquired along the trip. With no accompanying text this can seem like the dryest part of the project, but it’s actually fascinating to reverse-engineer the trip by comparing the artifacts gathered along the way with the “Mission Set.” The appearance (or absence) of a particular business card, for instance, indicates success (or failure) in completing a particular mission.
Up next for Sasa: “Our Spot’s” for Tokyo, Hanover, and Seoul (where the artist was born and raised), along with attendant exhibitions for each. As revealed by Sasa, the examined life is worth living, even if it’s someone else’s.