Jon Sasaki, “Hang in There”, 2012 Digital Video, 2:48 min, silent, looped, edition 2/5. MacKenzie Art Gallery, University of Regina Collection, purchased with the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance Program.
This summer, as people all over the world are taking their first timid steps back into a rapidly changing world, the MacKenzie Art Gallery will be exhibiting Jon Sasaki’s Hang in There in various public spaces outside of the gallery walls. Acquired by the MacKenzie Art Gallery (University of Regina Collection) in 2013, Hang in There is a restaging of an iconic inspirational poster from the 1970s. Rotated to horizontal, a cat struggles valiantly against somewhat ambiguous forces. Although his failure to “hang in there” is never shown on screen, a series of jump cuts (or one abrupt cut in the billboard version) implies that the original poster’s claims to feline tenacity were possibly overstated.
Presented on a digital billboard at the corner of Victoria Ave and Truesdale Drive (the west facing side 15 June – 12 July, and east facing 13 July – 9 August) and through advertisements on various social media platforms, this special presentation of Hang in There references the pause in regularly scheduled programs, or the space between planned destinations. In this context, Sasaki’s work has a strange interaction with a new vernacular in advertising; the “in these difficult times” or “things are hard out there” ads acknowledge the stresses of living through a global pandemic, but ultimately seeks to reassure consumer habits and solidify personal relationships with corporations. Sasaki’s tepidly motivational image offers reassurance and hope inflected with tension and dread. The adorable kitten is offered as a surrogate to unload and externalize our anxieties about health threats, the economy, social isolation, productivity, political unrest, and all the other unseen forces affecting our lives.
*Please note: the kitten was not harmed in the making of this video, though he did have a lot of fun.
An earlier iteration of this piece was first displayed in Regina for “Please Stare: Projects by artists for digital billboards” presented by Neutral Ground in 2013.
Where to Find the Billboard
About the Artist
Jon Sasaki’s many projects, videos, photographs, performances, objects, and installations often revolve around trying to reach dubious goals through perversely optimistic means. He seems to court failure as a richer, more revealing outcome than the soundest of victories. His tragicomic endeavours, ridiculous as they might be, are propelled by a warm, positivist worldview, particularly if the works involve, as they often do, a collaborative audience or cohorts willing to work towards whatever absurd (or noble) premise the artist has set his studied sights upon. The humour and fallibility embedded in his various works are anchored by a methodical, reasoned approach, in the same vein as the sight gags and complex scenes in a Buster Keaton film. In Sasaki’s hands, expectation and outcome never seem to align, generating a simultaneous sense of pathos and levity.
Jon Sasaki’s work has been exhibited in solo exhibitions at the Ottawa Art Gallery; the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge; the Art Gallery of Ontario, as well as a 2015 performance project at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Sasaki has participated in recent group exhibitions at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul; Platform Art Spaces, Melbourne; Nihonbashi Institute of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto. He has completed recent public art commissions for Sheridan College, Oakville, and the City of Barrie, Ontario, and – along with collaborator Jennifer Davis – was the recipient of a 2017 Concepts award from the Ontario Association of Architects. He was the recipient of the 2015 Canadian Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Prize (Dufftown, Scotland.) Sasaki holds a BFA from Mount Allison University, Sackville, NB.