One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness.
The psychological allure of Yayoi Kusama is boundless, the almost exoticisation of mental health in recent years seeing her popularity and fascination with her work burgeon. Avant-garde and provocative, Kusama has been delighting audiences with her famed infamous mirrored rooms since 1965, a timeless recurring and signature motif. Yet again, this near-nonagenarian has for the twelfth time taken over the Victoria Miro gallery in north London, bringing with her another blockbuster exhibition.
Each mirrored room is mysterious and amazing. It gives us the sense of the infinite existence of electronic polka-dots.
This latest exhibition series, “The Moving Moment When I went to the Universe” highlights two themes that seem to have a persistent hold over Kusama’s work: cosmic infinity, and personal obsession with recurring patterns and dots. Even with no knowledge of Kusama’s own struggles with mental health – plagued by harrowing hallucinations since childhood – it is an utterly captivating and enchanting experience.
Kusama’s struggle with her mental health is well documented, elevating her into that legendary category of “tortured genius”. Growing up in post-war Japan, and with a domineering mother who would often snatch her manically created artworks away from her while pen was still on page, Kusama has since turned to creation as a form of therapy, her life’s work a physical representation of her psyche.
A certain psychological intrigue surrounds everything she has produced over the past 80 years, her artistic skill and brilliance seeing her awarded with the Order of Culture by the Imperial Family in Japan – one of the highest awards one can achieve – an honour which saw her as the first female recipient for drawing and sculpture.
Kusama garnered greater prominence two years ago when hundreds lined the streets outside Victoria Miro, queuing for hours to experience “All the Eternal Love I have for the Pumpkins”.
Pumpkins have been a greater comfort to me since my childhood; they speak to me of the joy of living. They are humble and amusing at the same time, and I have and always will celebrate them in my art.
Entering that mirrored room, large black and yellow pumpkins for as far as the eye can see (into infinity), caused near-hysteria among the social media savvy, the fairground concept of infinity mirrors coupled with Tim Burton-esque pumpkins proving one of the most popular exhibitions of the year. For Kusama, it was just another manifestation of her exploration into her own mind, pumpkins being a dominant theme that she has experimented with since the early 1940s.
Accumulation is the result of my obsession and that philosophy is the main theme of my art.
Leaving aside the fact that Kusama has become the fairy godmother of all selfie-lovers – her infinity rooms the ideal backdrop to those highly-sought Instagram ‘Likes’ – her latest adaptation, “Infinity Mirrored Room – My Heart is Dancing into the Universe”, exudes a subtle and profound sadness, it being a reflection – a mirroring – of the continual turbulence of her own mind.
Enveloped in darkness and surrounded by hovering glowing orbs, infinite reflections are caused by cleverly placed mirrors, giving an uneasy sense of floating in a volatile atmosphere. The room is like the love child of Andy Warhol and Georges Seurat, Pop Art versus Pointillism, with the contemporary yet ethereal genius only Kusama can indulge.
Like pumpkins, polka-dots also feature heavily in Kusama’s work; one need only to remember the Yayoi Kusama/Louis Vuitton pop-up concept store that took over Selfridges in 2012, where walls, ceilings, and floors were awash with red dots on a pure white background, like Mushroom from Mario Kart had reproduced a thousand times over.
This obsession with polka-dots, a remnant of Kusama’s OCD, can be appreciated once more at this latest exhibition, with a room dedicated to her beloved pumpkins, both on canvas and sculptural representations. This again is repeated outside in the Waterside Garden, with a display of her sculptural “Flowers that Speak all about My Heart given to the Sky.” Her love of colour is obvious. These giant painted bronze flowers are bold and bright, whimsical, and delightful.
Also on display at the gallery are “My Eternal Soul Paintings”, a tribal and primitive, pattern-led series of Kusama’s various impressions of the world. Interspersing human forms and indeterminate objects, these grand paintings are maybe some of Kusama’s most obvious forays into her inner psyche, a mixture of confusion and dedication to the aesthetic.
Image, author’s own
Although ticketed this year to avoid the fracas of her last appearance at Victoria Miro, every available slot – just one minute inside the infinity mirror room – was snapped up instantaneously, and rightly so. It is not often you get to experience such an otherworldly ambience in your lunch break, even if for just 60 seconds.