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  • Writer's pictureVioletta Skittides

Yayoi Kusama: To Infinity and Beyond

Tabitha Boyton and Violetta Skittidi

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has risen to popularity for her infinity rooms and her black-and-yellow pumpkins.

Despite the exhibition’s limited space, the experience of stepping into Yayoi Kusama’s universe was nothing short of surreal—a much-needed reconnection/stimulation after two years of being isolated at our own homes. The feeling is reminiscent of escaping a mundane reality, offering us a glimpse into what has been coined a “hallucinatory palace of light.”

As the exhibition unravels, it takes us further into the antecedents of Yayoi’s body of work, including her struggle with the weight of mental health. In 2018 these rooms, designed to present lived experiences, were also featured in the Victoria Miro Gallery.

1- Chandelier of Grief (2016)

The Chandelier of Grief (perhaps four meters in height) invites onlookers to explore recurring topics from the celebration of life to death through multimedia installations. The beguiling and hypnotic rotating chandelier implies that humans are unique; possessing the extraordinary ability to simultaneously perceive magnificence and grief. This is further depicted via the flickering lights of the rotating white chandelier, accompanied by the endless hexagonal kaleidoscopic reflections. ‘Forget yourself. Become one with eternity. Become part of your environment.’

2- Filled with the Brilliance of Light (2012)

Engulfed by an array of prismatic LED lights and surrounded by ceiling-to-floor mirrors, the visitor is here transported into one of her largest installations. Initially designed in 2012 for the Tate Modern’s Retrospective exhibition, the installation sought to create the impression of existing in a limitless realm, filled with dancing LED stars.

The pulses of the LED lights are Kusama’s invitation to “self obliterate”, describing this as ‘Dissolution and accumulation. Proliferation and fragmentation. The feeling of myself obliterating.’ This is most vividly experienced when you look at yourself in the mirror and see the lights consume your distinguishing features. Kusama’s distinctive display is reminiscent of the eponymous feature of “The Yellow Wallpaper'' by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and a recurring pattern confronts the onlooker with a feeling of disorientation or distortions. by fixating on the same repeating pattern. Alongside the depiction of attitudes towards mental health - particularly those of the female gaze.

‘Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos... When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environment.’

3 - Walking Piece (1966)

There were also 25 coloured snapshots of her ‘Walking Piece’ captured by Eikoh Hosoe in New York City during the mid-1960s, through which he sought to explore both his subject’s outer and inner personalities.

Yayoi Kusama, Walking Piece, 1966

The fish-eye lens and double exposure imply the distortion of perspectives, due to the proliferation of anti-Japanese sentiment in the aftermath of the Second World War. Additionally, it sought to bring light to the male domination of artistic culture in the United States. Juxtaposing the industrial grey apartment complexes and skies with Kusama’s pink traditional Japanese kimono and floral parasol, the images sought to highlight the isolation and racial discrimination she - and many others - faced at that time. The avant-garde artist - influenced by Andy Warhol - has continued to consider, evaluate and examine her mental health disorders, sexual liberation and being a lonely outsider. ‘I, Kusama, (who have lived for years in my famous, specially built room entirely covered by mirrors), have opened up a world of fantasy and freedom.’

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