To infinity and beyond.
I have been dying to see the spell binding Infinity Rooms by Yayoi Kasuma for nearly ten years; and it seems I was not the only one. Now on display at the Tate Modern, I waited in an online queue for nine hours as soon as tickets were announced – and I only just managed to secure mine. This week, I was back at the Southbank in sun-drenched London to experience these phenomenal works in person.
Kusama has experienced mental health problems throughout her life and began to have acute hallucinations in the early 1970s. It was 1977 when she admitted herself to a Tokyo hospital where she resides to this day within close proximity of her art studio.
For Kusuma, the experience of art is about more than just looking, it can also be about stepping into the artwork and being immersed into it. The use of mirrors in these installation pieces, places the spectator at the centre of a creative universe and allows you to step inside someone else’s mind.
There are two mirror rooms to experience; the first of which is the Chandelier of Grief. The oxymoron titled piece instantly indicative of wonder and woe. Inside the white exterior containing the installation, the space is completely black with a central, rotating chandelier. The lights of which are reflected in multiple mirrors, giving the illusion that the reflected space goes on forever. The lights on the chandelier flicker as it rotates which gives a haunting touch and suggests that something can appear beautiful but be tinged with sadness at the same time. To me, the experience pinpoints that we can never know what goes on in someone’s mind. Appearances can be deceptive; a person may look fine on the outside, but tormented by mental anguish on the inside.
“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.”
Mirrors, dots and repetition have long been a prominent feature of Kasuma’s work. The root of which stems from visual hallucinations that she had as a child. A particularly vivid one she recalls is gazing at a pattern of red flowers on a tablecloth and then looking up to see that the ceiling, windows and walls appeared to be covered with the same red floral design. She says she felt as though she was disappearing or dissolving which she describes as “self-obliteration.” It is these experiences that she recreates in her art.
In the second mirror room ‘Filled With The Brilliance Of Life,’ Kasuma shares this self-obliteration with us. The walkway is surrounded by water and mirrors which reflect the tiny round dots of light that surround the room. These coloured dots are repeated over and over again through reflection and give the illusion of staring into an eternity of stars. The effect of this alters our perception of space and makes it difficult to determine what is near and what is far. This is a significant difference from the traditional art experience where there is a clear distinction of the spectator’s position and the artwork. The mirrored room immerses you into the art where you become one and the same.
The colours frequently change and pulse like a beating heart; symbolic of the passing of time. Again, this is a juxtaposition in Kusama’s work – eternity and time running out like a ticking clock. A reminder that whilst we may feel as though we have forever, our time here is temporary.
“I shall never stop striving to make works that will shine on after my death.”
Out of Yayoi Kusama’s suffering comes beautiful artwork, something that she does not resent. The experience of her work is thought provoking, the true reflection of which cannot be captured in static photos alone. If you aren’t able to see this sold out exhibition, view my Instagram reels for videos of the installations.