Other Investigations: Allison Yasukawa

I have found a sense of poignancy in Allison Yasukawa‘s work that continues to lure me back time and time again. Revisiting a handful of pieces, I find a delicate balance of humor and sincerity–with objects containing a surprising sense of insinuated movement and narrative. Allison has kindly taken some time to talk to Make Space about competition, humor, her studio practice, and touches on her new hometown, Baltimore.

Allison, you say your work shifts between media–could you elaborate on your work acting as an intermediary role, as you say, to contort interactions between viewer and performer, viewer and viewer, or viewer and object?

Sure. Maybe it would be most helpful for me to explain how I got here, or why I care about these types of investigations. There are two threads from my background and schooling experience that are heavily influential on my practice: athletic competition and social interaction. I’ll put the social interaction to the side for the moment and start with athletic competition. Sports are about physicality, control, systems, strategy, showmanship, and, of course, winning. I’m not a professional athlete by any means, but I’ve played volleyball, fairly competitively, for quite a long time, and it informs what I do in my practice. For me, there’s an inherent contradiction in my view of this world (not just volleyball, but sports in general): it is both entirely engrossing and couldn’t be less important. But for many people, Americans especially, sports really matter. Playing or watching a sporting event—being involved and caring about it—allows people to participate in a shared experience but to do so in a way that’s socially safe.  Yet the active, physical side of sports competitions shifts the physical context of interaction very much outside of everyday bodily boundaries. I bring this up because I think a lot about interaction from both a physical and a social standpoint when I’m working. I try to draw on and play with a given situation and look for ways that I can create a system to coax (or sometimes more directly pressure) people out of their day-to-day patterns of interaction. That’s my goal when I’m working on a piece or project that includes these types of interactions.

Eclipsing a Sun (installation view) 2010 ladder, light, thread, altered Japanese flag, daughter (absent) installation variable
Eclipsing a Sun (installation view)
ladder, light, thread, altered Japanese flag, daughter (absent)
installation variable

The piece How to Catch a Naked Man really captures the idea of the imagined interaction without necessitating its enactment. Could you talk about this piece and was there any inspiration from Bas Jan Ader’s piece Tea Party?

Even in my work that foreground real (as opposed to imagined) interaction, objects are almost always central to their realization. The more work I made like this, the more fixated I became on the implication, or potential, of interaction that the objects themselves contained. For me, as the one who was orchestrating these interactions and who, therefore, had spent time thinking about what was going to happen once the thing took place, the potential in these objects would present as a sort of anticipatory tension that I found really engaging. At a certain point, I began to be less concerned with what actually happened than with that feeling of what could or what was probably going to happen. It seemed like a natural next step to find a way to draw out that pre-interaction stage by removing the actual interaction itself but leaving the potential there that’s found in the object itself. And yes, Bas Jan Ader’s Tea Party was an inspiration in addition to an Ashanti folktale about Anansi the spider and the tar baby; the 1953 classic, How to Marry a Millionare; and the slapstick acting in Peter Seller’s Pink Panther movies.

Could you talk about your piece, I fucked up my nails, currently in the exhibition ‘The Dragon is the Frame’ at Gallery 400?

This is a memorial piece for a beloved friend. It’s a portrait of a relationship from a shared moment in our personal history and a record of an act of my inability to make something perfect. I was thinking about mistakes (fuck ups) and repairs and how both can add to rather than subtract from something’s beauty. I was also thinking of decoration and adornment and how a little bit of wonky is always better than being too clean.

Your interests in cultural and social relations surfaces in the piece CHAMPION/CHAMPAAN—two mall walking medals that have the last name Yasukawa spelled correctly and incorrectly, connected by a single ribbon. Making the connection between the very American past time, mall walking, and the latter half of the title “CHAMPAAN”, perhaps making a reference to Japan, there seems to be a very sincere sense of cultural misunderstanding. I cannot help but to think the entrance into this piece is through humor, is this a way to enter into some of your work like CHAMPION/CHAMPAAN?

I hope so. Humor is important to me, especially in work that addresses social and cultural content and contexts that people might find difficult. Not because I want to belittle or make light of these topics or the questions I’m trying to raise about them but because of the kind of work humor can do. Humor makes things accessible; it can serve as an entry point. If I am generous here then I can ask people to do a little more work (or make them a little uncomfortable) once they’re there.

How do you use your studio?

My studio and I have a complicated relationship. It’s both uncomfortable and pleasant. I always feel like a un-authority and a clumsy maker in my studio, and I think that’s important. It’s productive to feel constantly like I’m at a (the) beginning because there’s value for me in learning how to do it (again). That said, my studio’s also a very nice place to be. It’s in my home and it’s a space I share with Adam [Farcus]. We don’t usually work collaboratively, but we are constantly in dialogue about our individual projects.

Finally, you have recently moved to Baltimore from Chicago. Do you think this will change your work at all and do you have any plans, exhibitions, or performances we should be looking out for?

I’m sure evidence of being in a new place will surface in my work—how exactly I have no idea. I can say, though, that I’m really excited about the area I’m in. Druid Heights was formerly an affluent African American neighborhood, and it has very active community forces working to rebuild it. Once Adam and I get set up here we’ll be running a gallery out of our place called 500. 500. 100. I’ll also be back in Chicago this fall to show at New Capital.

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