whatsherface #6: Saki Sato


The Ultimate Object

Love Story

From the Author’s Desk

An Open Letter to the Viewer


It’s raining outside and the drops are beating against my window. Coincidentally, I am also listening to drum music. I am being beat on from all sides, a torrent of rhythmic sound.


It is comforting, like I find tight fitting clothing comforting. Others may find this stifling, but I prefer to be swaddled, surrounded, overwhelmed. I dreamt of sinking into the ball pit when I was little. Now that I do not have access to ball pits, I find other ways to satisfy my desires.


One of my desires is to make films. I get ideas occasionally, and I find the best way to explain them to other people is to make a short film. 

What is the Ultimate Object?

I tried to find that out by

making one up in my mind.

Complimentary Soundtrack 1:

African Burundi Drum Music


Complimentary Soundtrack 2:

Rainy Camping Trip


Contemplating The Ultimate

When I thought of The Ultimate Object, it started as a vague exercise in describing my love for generic yet perfect geometric forms. These objects are abstract but also tangible— we even make toys for very young children out of these forms. Their perfection could seem forbidding, but we don’t care. We’ll make them, we’ll play with them: blocks, balls and pyramids, built in miniature for our pleasure.

I think it’s important that we are exposed to these shapes at an early age. Maybe I find these basic forms and primary colors so attractive because they are some of the first things I accessed in my early education. I’m trying to get back to my roots and pay homage to these forms. What is more perfect than a tower of blocks with a pyramid on top? It’s a feat of childhood engineering. And if you could balance a ball on top of the pyramid? Well that would be a miracle, and one I could only perform in the medium of video.

Figure 1: Notice the lack of a sphere.

The Ultimate Object honors these objects in their purest incarnation: how they exist in our mental image. I read a long time ago that Plato believed a true, flawless circle could only exist in our minds. How I have misinterpreted that quote, I do not know. But that basic idea has stuck with me for a long time. We can only attain perfection in our imaginations. So I am trying to use less and less in my videos, and rely more on visual approximations, spoken descriptions, and symbolic stand ins, in order to make the viewer imagine this perfect world on his or her own. I want to pull out the idea of perfection from the viewer's mind– after all, the best ideas are ones you come up with yourself.


Less is More, and it is also More Epic

To create this perfect world for the viewer, I needed an epic setting— somewhere that could only exist in the theater of our minds, where a very abstract event, “the construction of a perfect object”, would take place. Therefore I chose a black void. By placing basic, geometric forms into this void, the familiar could become forbidding and awesome. In isolation, the forms become deities of a strange world, no longer children's toys on the floor.


The forms glow, offering the only light in their dark world. They exist in the absence of people, in a land of pure “objectification”: nothing is alive and everything is an object. You could say that a prerequisite of their very existence is the absence of all life. But then I characterize them, attribute powers to them, and laud them as magical worlds. This humanizes them while also keeping them abstract and distinctly out of our reach. Are they dead or do they live? Their surfaces may be lifeless but who knows what life teems within. They are transformed from anonymous, universal symbols into a mythos, heavy with meaning and yet light on the details.



Objects of Power

I like playing with symbols, especially the idea of how we can arbitrarily imbue certain objects with symbolic power. Maybe the object earned this status over eons of use. Or maybe it was a coincidence. Either way, once something wields power as a symbol, that’s all that matters. The idea of an object of power makes me think of the crowning piece of a pharaoh’s staff: the symbol, the seal, that carries the royal writ, opens doors, reveals secrets. Having watched Indiana Jones recently, I cannot get a certain apocryphal version out of my head when describing this:

On Love, Or an Idea of It

Love Story is similar in that I pared down its elements to create something universal: cut out the people, the dialogue, the props and the tears. What is left? Just some pictures and a story.

The juicy heart in the center rotates joyously, then lethargically, then tragically, as a stand in for the fateful romance that is going on behind it, told through short stock videos. I like using stock footage because when I collect enough footage made by other people, I feel like I get closer to achieving some kind of collective consensus, or at least a very sterile pulse of the times.


Love Story also takes place in the absence of people— a cliché romantic plot that unfolds solely through pictures and events. It is an incredibly common story, so you can probably guess how it ends, although I leave the fireball up to your interpretation. Mainly, I told a story that could be anyone’s story, just sub in the characters of your choice. It goes something like:


"It was great, then things changed: more money, more problems, heavy drugs, shit hit the fan, and then figuratively, or literally, burst into flames.”


Because it is anyone's story it is also nobody's story, and it acts as a way for me to escape representation of the human body. I show pieces of it, especially hands, but never the full picture. By not having any “body” in my work, it frees it of its physicality and identity. It can be any body. It is released from the burden of being someone, and has escaped the physical world. I'm not saying that the physical/carnal is always a burden, but when I make work, I want to take a break from all that.

Figure 3: Isn't that the end goal– release from the cycle of reincarnation, and physical existence?

From A Zen Guide to Board Games

I even get the idea that I want to leave my body, to have an out-of-body experience. Not like astral projection. More like knowing what it is like to exist as an inanimate object. Sometimes we look at house pets, like a particularly comfortable cat, and point out "how lucky" they are, "how nice" that must be. But I wonder how nice it must be to be a stone. Or a spiritual consciousness. I have a mantra I sometimes repeat to myself: "I am a rock, I am a tree, I am a [sub in whatever object I happen to be looking at]. I feel like these objects truly know how to be.


Maybe my problem with the body is that it's hard not to sexualize a humanoid form. Sexualizing can be cool, it can also be terrible, but how about a place where it isn’t there at all? I'd like to think about that place and go there for a while: where a body can be a body alone; not in relation to other bodies, because there is no body. And maybe the body is just a brain, the thoughts, and nothing else.

Figure 4: “Sibyl System” from the anime “Psycho Pass”

Image from MyAnimeList

Figure 2: Indiana Jones Map Room Playset from

Alex Bickmore’s Super Toy Archive

In the video, I talk about having these forms, possessing them, and harnessing their powers. And I arbitrarily decide to combine them into "the ultimate object"– one that will always be with the person who imagines it. Just thinking about this powerful object makes me feel like I can take some of its power with me. So even if it doesn’t exist in the material world, I can still manifest its powers, its confidence and ease of being, and that’s something.

Videos for your brain

But what would we do in a world without bodies? When we are only comprised of our brains, sitting in a  communal soup? Maybe we’ll watch these videos, and hate them and wish we could remember our limbs, lips and those other parts. But for now, while were are close but not yet fully integrated into technology, we can still have dreams and ideas of floating untethered in a vast world of ideas.

Final Thoughts

In the great, big brain-soup to come, we will probably have an even harder time relating to each other. When I'm alone with my thoughts, it is easy to think of myself as crazy and inscrutable to others. But then I share something, like a video, and some people watch it, and understand it in certain ways. They may not be the same things I was thinking about, but they are close, and that is enough. After that, the viewer and I share something and we can both go home happy.

I am still listening to this drum music. I am beating you over the head with my ideas. I like repetition. I like familiarity. I am falling into a trance and it feels good. I hope you can watch my videos over and over again and reach a similar state.

Figure 5: Aren't we all just lonely at heart, reaching out

to each other to be understood? I was at a loss for what to do on this

sad, rainy day so I made buttermilk biscuits and blueberry sauce.

Saki Sato lives and works in New York City. She helps manage an artist-run gallery called The Hand. See more of her work at www.sakisato.com.