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An Artist Walks into a BarAki Sasamoto

September 18, 2019

Visit our Awards page for this film’s honors and recognition.

What happens when an artist gives up control? Mirroring its subject’s own playful and absurdist sensibility, this portrait of sculptor and performance artist Aki Sasamoto is a fluid hybrid of fiction and documentary—at once a magical realist world of spinning objects and a psychological exploration of fundamental questions about artistic creativity.

Drinking and bar culture has long served as a source of inspiration for the artist. With a real-world Brooklyn bar as the main stage for her deadpan performance style, a bartender acts as a sympathetic ear for Sasamoto’s ruminations on past projects and recent motherhood. Embellished by CGI-style effects, the artist toggles between impromptu conversations and scripted performances, blurring the line between observable fact and subjective vision.

From firing whiskey glasses at Urban Glass in Brooklyn to installing her exhibition, “Past in a future tense,” at Bortolami Gallery in Manhattan, Sasamoto grapples with the tension between control and chaos—between her mastery over materials and their own will. “Whatever I thought I had control over, whatever I thought I was,” explains Sasamoto, “will change in front of me and that to me is exciting, in life and in sculpture.”

More information and credits


Featuring: Aki Sasamoto, Ray Ekwurtzel-Sasamoto, Pau Atela, Romina Gonzales, and Anna Peterson. “New York Close Up” Series Producer: Nick Ravich. Directors: Rafael Salazar and Ava Wiland. Producer: Ava Wiland. Editor: Rafael Salazar. Cinematography: Jon Nelson and Rafael Salazar. Digital Compositor: Luis M. Pla. Associate Producer: Julia Main. Location Sound: Nikola Chapelle. Gaffer: Jacob Mallin. Production Services: RAVA Films: Color Correction: Jerome Thelia. Sound Design & Mix: Adam Boese. Design & Graphics: Chips. Music: Matt Bauder. Artwork Courtesy: Aki Sasamoto. Thanks: Jason Bauer, Bortolami Gallery, James Corporan, Cut + Measure, Sam Ekwurtzel, Eugene & Company, Gilberto Gil, Romina Gonzales, Ben Hagari, Anna Peterson, UrbanGlass, and Russell Yaffe.

New York Close Up is supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts; and, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by individual contributors.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Aki Sasamoto

Aki Sasamoto was born in 1980 in Kanagawa, Japan, and now lives and works in New York. An installation and performance artist, Sasamoto works in various media, finding material inspiration in response to the conditions of her site or surroundings.

“This thing with art making…you have to achieve total control before you accept chaos in it.”

Aki Sasamoto