If we have to endure another shitty art exhibition showing Photo Booth and Facebook screen dumps along with a pompous manifesto of some elaborate bullshit idea about the universe thought up on a DMT high at some lame-ass art school party we’re going to start that digital pulse war nerds like talking about in secret. What happened to doing cute and funny stuff and actually having a point? Like Japanese artist Sako Kojima, who, in her performance “The Reason Why I Become a Hamster,” dresses up as a hamster and lives like a hamster in a human sized hamster cage eating gigantic sunflower seeds and chewing on paper and big chunks of wood for a whole week just to show us how our souls suffer from the incarceration of our civilized modern society. She’s like hamster Jesus blessing us with the warm fuzzy feeling of tummy butterflies humming “KAWAI!” She’s also the cutest rodent we’ve ever seen so we asked her if she would be our hamster for a couple of days. It didn’t quite turn into the cutesy pen pals sending each other hamburger Band-Aids and little plastic banana men scenario we had imagined. Instead she got all upset and we had to apologize (who knew hamsters were so sensitive?), and only then did she agree to answer our questions, but not the silly ones.
VICE: Hello serious contemporary artist Sako Kojima. Did you survive a gamma bomb explosion in a pet store and turned into a cute version of The Hulk, or why do occasionally become a hamster?
Sako Kojima: I spent the summer of 2002 indoors and alone. My life was empty, all I did was go to the nearby supermarket to buy a simple meal and then come back home to sleep. One day I realized that my life was similar to a hamster’s. To me, becoming a hamster is a symbol of how life in today’s standardized society is safe and we’re spared from hunger, but we’re not living.
I have a tear in my eye now.
We don’t suffer from physical pain, but we seem to have lost the pleasure of living. Our pain is mental, like self-injury, wrist-cutting syndrome and anorexia nervosa. They are ways for people to feel alive in this overprotected society. That’s how my mental suffering started.
Is giving into and living out this hamster existence something you do instead of stuffing your face with multicolored antidepressants?
While doing the performance I’m almost mindless, as my head goes empty when I mimic a hamster’s movement. When I move quickly, my heart beats faster and my feeling of shame disappears as the world outside gradually becomes meaningless to me.
Um, is that good or bad? Hamster life looks like so much fun and everyone is smiling at you!
Actually, the quick movements are very difficult and tiring for a human-size hamster. But, since in my mind I’m a hamster throughout the whole performance, it isn’t until after that I feel my muscles ache and realize that my front tooth is broken.
Then why did you choose to be a hamster? If you were a kitten you could just cuddle up and sleep or play with fluffy stuff all day.
I like hamsters because they’re weak and vicious at the same time and they have this cool, stone-faced approach to humans. You can’t really tame them. I’ve had three pet hamsters since elementary school and I always felt guilty for keeping them in a cage. Hamsters, just like humans, are meant to live in the wild.
Fair enough. But how do you face inevitable human needs like going to the toilet?
Just like a hamster I use the small hutch placed inside the cage.
Do you feel like your existential message is coming through to your audience?
I’ve had many different reactions to my performance. Japanese people watch it seriously, while French people sometimes give me dubious looks. I didn’t intend it but some people see my performance as something sexual! Children always love me and want to come see me again and again.
Will you continue doing your hamster performance?
Yes, I just need to find the right circumstances. The plan for the next one is to have several hamster girls in a transparent cage, feeling the population pressure and each other’s warmth.