Self Obliteration, Obsession and the Year of the Dot: Yayoi Kusama at the Tate Modern.
Last Sunday I took myself to the city to visit the galleries I hadn’t seen in months, while simultaneously reminding myself why I could never live there (London, not the Tate Modern). I had spent the last day with my brother, who is leaving us for Australia in a few days time, and finally got the chance to visit Yayoi Kusama’s wonderful restrospective at the Tate Modern. With a mind crowded by events of the past season, I often escape in this way, to places where I can be alone and feel like I am alone and experience wonderful things. I can’t say I always work things out in the way that I should, but the effort’s there.
The above detail is from one of Yayoi Kusama’s very early paintings, Untitled 1954, that provide a comment on the Western influence in post-war Japan, and the dislocation felt by those that were directly affected by the passage of war. This is obviously a huge theme with Japanese artists at the time, however over the course of the exhibition, you begin to see how Western Kasuma does “become” in her dismissal of traditional Japanese artistic practises through an adoption of the Western movements of Abstract Expressionism, absurdism and the avant-garde. Her art transforms into a translation of the world outside of her own self-recognition, and into her lucid and overwhelming communication of the interior onto the exterior in her installation pieces.
This is No. White A.Z., 1958-59, one of Kusama’s Infinity Net pieces. It’s wonderful to look at; the tiny, perfectly prescribed loops of white paint are immediately immersive and are one of the most important ways of analysing Kusama’s approach to art, which I take as a form of self-discipline and obsession, not just through the application of labour but an artistic and conceptual understanding of artistic production. Kusama’s own comment on these works, her first created in America, describes the Infinity Net paintings as ‘white nets enveloping the black dots of silent death against a pitch-dark background of nothingness’.
Kusama’s work isn’t just limited to paintings and installations, part of the exhibition focused on the progression of Kusama’s career in America, and her involvement with performance art and film. The above note is an invitation to one of Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Happenings’, in which Kusama’s involvement with 60’s flower-child culture transformed the way she engaged with her work through her experiments in ‘Self Obliteration’. Kusama involved the artistic community and willing strangers in her provocative, energetic performances, where she painted her infamous dot patterns on the naked bodies of her participants. I love how she asks for ‘Happy People’.
This is a terrible photo of Kusama’s wonderful room installation ‘I’m Here, But Nothing’. As mentioned several times in the press surrounding this exhibition, Kusama has always dealt with hallucinatory visions, which caused her to return to Tokyo in 1977 and voluntarily admit herself into a psychological institution, where she lives and works to this day. Through Kusama’s communication of these visions, this installation turns the mundane interior of a domestic space into something utterly spectacular and surreal. Everything becomes a detail in a larger, expansive landscape, and we see the system of repeated forms that Kusama’s work with dots ultimately seeks to translate.
Above is the only photo I could successfully take of Kusama’s Aggregation: One Thousand Boats, one of her many installation size engagements with 60’s pop art. The boat itself is covered in hundreds of phallic-like objects, a theme in her installation work that continues in her Accumulation Structures that I also couldn’t photograph. I should probably stop trying to sneak photographs in galleries all the time.
These are a few examples of the series of 100+ recent works, the others are currently on show at the Victoria Miro Gallery (which I’ll try my best to scrape my pennies together for). There is a real sense of interruption in her use of contradictory colours and forms, and once again communicate Kusama’s inner world outwards in repeated and transformed forms, intense shapes and lines. They are overwhelming to look at, the way they are exhibited definitely has something to do with the audiences inability to be at peace with the work, which I can only comment upon positively. The exhibition at Victoria Miro looks like it gives the works a bit more space from one another, which I’m really interested in experiencing.
Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Room is truly wonderful. Through the use of constantly changing coloured lights, mirrors and water, you are asked to view yourself in context to Infinity and gain a further understanding of Kusama’s relationship and, perhaps, tension with the world. I planted myself there for as long as possible, taking in the disorientating, psychedelic, and endlessly indeterminable space.
My only small, and perhaps ridiculous criticism considering the amount of visitors the Tate Modern pulls in, is that we couldn’t go in one by one, and spend longer than a minute there, however due to the conveyor belt chaperoning by the staff this wasn’t possible and I felt I lost something that Kusama was trying to communicate. A child fell in one of the water pools as well, which I thought Kusama might have found funny. The steward didn’t think it was funny.
This photo is courtesy of My Modern Met, as I once again was stopped. I should stop moaning about that now.
This exhibition is truly, truly fantastic. I can’t recommend it enough, and has made me obsessive about her work. I honest to god can’t understand people who like Damien Hirst’s emotionless, blankly unfeeling Dot paintings when there is work like hers around. I’m currently devouring the exhibition catalogue as I finish this. I couldn’t even fit in a chronological look at the way she developed dots into her work, or her relationship with Joseph Cornell and subsequent collages. I’ll leave you with a detail from Weeds 1996, another exploration into repeated, chaotic forms.