In 2015, five Canadian artists, including Daniel Barrow, Meryl McMaster, Kristine Moran and David Hoffos, were chosen for consecutive bi-national residencies in Detroit. The fifth was Jon Sasaki, the Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist whose special talent is generating emotional weight out of conceptual strategies. With the help of a pair of experienced welders and a number of graduate students in ceramics and architecture from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, he decided to confront head-on the turning wheel of Motor City: the automobile. On Craigslist he found a white 1990 Lincoln Town Car that had been turned into a stretch limo by adding eight feet to the centre of the frame. Sasaki’s plan was to take out the stretch. The limits he set for the project were that it had to happen on one day from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. He called his performance Contraction: The All-New 2015 Rightsized Limo. It was a kind of Motown car reduction.
Initially, Sasaki didn’t know what he wanted to do. “When he was first accepted he asked if he could come before the residency,” says Peter Rozak, the director of the Canadian Residency program. “So he came in the springtime for a week, stayed in a hotel and started planning from there.”
The first car he found was rejected on aesthetic grounds. “There was so much wrong that it wouldn’t have read properly even from the distance we were keeping the audience at.” Even the chosen car needed two weeks of prep time before the performance. “I rolled on a couple of coats of Rust-Oleum paint and did a lot of bodywork in Bondo and sanding.” Sasaki didn’t entirely know how difficult the removal of the eight-foot section was going to be. “For me the piece hinges on not having all the answers. The decisions that have to get made, get made in the moment of the performance.” The carpet underlay under the driver’s seat did catch fire and wouldn’t extinguish. “There were billows of smoke at one point and it got very dramatic. The piece was always about putting out fires and in this instance, that was literally the case.”
Sasaki intended Contraction as a comment on the economic downturn Detroit has been undergoing, and he is aware that his title is a loaded one. “Downsized is a weird euphemism when you imagine what does not get to move forward in this new and streamlined Detroit. The process is not victimless; there are a lot of people who don’t get to participate in the debate. In a way, the excised piece becomes a monument to the sacrifices that had to be made along the way.” One small compensation came in the way the cut-out section was repurposed as a social space where people rested and hung out. “I liked that possibility because I didn’t want to hit too hard of a melancholy note.”
The other playful aspect of the performance came in the form of a souvenir car freshener in an edition of 250. Part of the residency requirement is that the visiting artist produces a multiple; Sasaki’s took the form of a limo graphic of the model of Town Car he used in the performance. You could take one of the fresheners, cut it into thirds, and reassemble it as a shrunken-down Town Car. The scent was “New Car Smell.” ❚