THE MOVING MOMENT WHEN I WENT TO THE UNIVERSE – Yayoi Kusama 2018
We were lucky enough to bag tickets for Yayoi Kusama’s much-anticipated exhibition at the Victoria Miro Warf Road galleries and waterside garden, and it did not disappoint.
Now approaching her 90th birthday, Yayoi Kusama has spent nearly 70 years developing her introspective, vibrant portfolio of work. Titled THE MOVING MOMENT WHEN I WENT TO THE UNIVERSE, this was a major exhibition of Kusama’s new works, featuring the iconic My Eternal Soul series, painted bronze pumpkins, psychedelic flower sculptures and of course, the now iconic Infinity Mirrored Room, now a hallmark of any Kusama exhibition.
Kusama’s work is easy to love at first sight – her notorious larger than life infinity nets are mesmerising. Her art has sparked Instagrammers all over the world to share their hallucinogenic-scene selfies. However, the conceptions and emotions behind Kusama’s works are far more nuanced than what meets the eye.
About the artist
Personal psychology is the primary driver of Kusama’s work. The artist suffered from a young age with an obsessive mentality, terrifying hallucinations and later, a sex obsession as well. Kusama recalled in an interview with Akira Tatehata that as a child “my mother did not know I was sick, so she hit me, smacked me… she abused me so badly – nowadays she’d be put in jail”. She admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital in 1977 and has lived there ever since. Kusama chose to channel her hallucinations of ‘infinity nets’ and face her fears by painting and creating them in reality as a practice of “self-therapy”.
Growing up in Matsumoto City, Japan in the 30s, Kusama was surrounded by root vegetables as her family cultivated plant seeds for a living. In her 2011 book Infinity Net: the Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, she tells the reader that as a child “I would confront the spirit of the pumpkin, forgetting everything else and concentrating my mind entirely upon the form before me. Just as Bodhidharma spent ten years facing a stone wall, I spent as much as a month facing a single pumpkin. I regretted even having to take time to sleep.”
In what we’ll call ‘the pumpkin room’ at Miro, the series on display includes new bronze pumpkin sculptures painted in vibrant red, yellow and green and covered with repeated black dots, so glossy that you can see your reflection in their skin. This delivers another element of self-analysis and confrontation beyond the intimidating colours and sizes of the sculptures. Themes of growth and fertility echoed by the pumpkins’ natural form also relate to Kusama’s obsession with sex that is portrayed more overtly in a lot of her earlier works, like Ironing Board.
In the waterside garden: Flowers
Moving through the room of pumpkins, we’re guided to Miro’s waterside gardens, where three huge multi-coloured flower sculptures perch on the decking. Flowers, like pumpkins, are an important part of Kusama’s art. The unnatural colours and large scale of the sculptures make you feel like Alice in Wonderland – suddenly immersed in a dreamscape that dwarfs you, and whether it is utopia or dystopia is yet to be revealed. Balancing cleverly on two or three feet, the sculptures encourage you to move around them, luring you closer. The flowers evoke Tennyson like visions of enchanting flowers and hallucinated mariners.
Infinity Mirrored Room – My Heart is Dancing to the Universe
Having left the best till last, we climb the narrow stairs to join the queue of iPhone clutching gallery goers patiently waiting for their turn in the infinity room. Three people can enter at a time and you have one minute inside. Anticipation peaks and there’s a flurry of action to get cameras ready.
Entering through a heavy black curtain, you are suddenly transported into what feels like another universe. The room is dark and entirely lined with mirrors reflecting the hanging spherical paper lanterns that morph through a psychedelic colour wheel. Staring into the infinite depth of reflections, you find yourself becoming part of the work itself rather than a bystander to it – engulfed in a dreamscape you’re not in control of. It’s common to feel conflicted with wonder and entrapment as the seductive colours are backed by dizziness.
This is Kusama’s world – she invites people to see and experience her own dreamscape and facilitates out of body experiences by creating immersive, sensory rooms. She has spent her life working to produce true expressions of her anxiety, hallucinations and obsessions. They are the driver of her work – the mental anguish Kusama has is all-consuming and a lifelong struggle. However, her work is also calculated, committed and carefully executed. Despite her mental ‘disabilities’ (as she labels them), Kusama is a savvy and unique artist to be reckoned with. She carves her own path and her work is incredible.
Have you been to see this exhibition at Miro? Tell us what you think in the comments!
Photos by Charlotte Tanguay
Rebecca Shaw, Author