Delightful Dots and Dazzling Environments: Kusama's Obsessive Neurosis
by Preeti Kathuria
London. For the last six decades, working across a variety of mediums, Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama has successfully channelled her obsessive neurosis into art. A young philosopher Akira Asada in her essay titled, The Victory of Yayoi Kusama, has said about Kusama that “She turned the tables on a life threatening repetition compulsion, converting it into art and attempting thereby to effect a self-cure”.
Curated by Frances Morris, Tate Modern has put up this evocative exhibition as the very first British retrospective of Kusama's massive body of work. Well known for her carefully crafted, dense patterns of polka dots and nets, the 83-year-old artist has spent a major part of the last forty years in a psychiatric hospital. She resides their voluntarily on an open ward and does her contemplative art practice in isolation in a studio across the street, commuting back and forth on a daily basis. In her autobiography, Infinity Net, Kusama says, “No matter how I may suffer for my art, I will have no regrets. This is the way I have lived my life and it is the way I shall go on living.”
Pushing the boundaries of Surrealism, Minimalism and Pop art, Kusama has chimed a new accord in art through her semi-abstract imagery. Kusama's dots evade all surfaces - paintings, walls, objects, clothes and even naked bodies. Her language is simple yet sensitive, pseudo-radical yet deeply regressive, asserting upon art's critical as well as aesthetic dimension. Her fixation for repetitiveness not only creates layered, web-like patterns and illusions but also echoes with an inchoate multiplicity. Kusama's Infinity Net paintings from her early years in New York, are large canvases of white arc-shaped brushstrokes on coloured backgrounds, each made meticulously in tiny swirls, so that a web-like layer reveals dotted shapes underneath. Another striking work - I'm Here, But Nothing, 2000 shows a darkened domestic space with whole interior and furnishings covered with fluorescent polka dots made from UV-lit stickers. The space exists as a room within a room and stands independently amidst the rest of the exhibition. A prominent part of this exhibition is a new installation Infinity Mirrored Room - Filled with the Brilliance of Life 2011, Kusama's largest mirrored room to date. The room of mirrors is filled with coloured lights suspended from the ceiling, reflected in all ten directions. It makes one feel caught in a beautiful starry night sky where one can only see stars everywhere. The experience is bewitching and tantalizing. Her potent impulsiveness has the ability to create power-oriented installations that immerse the spectator in her obsessive vision of endless dots, nets, soft sculptures. Kusama's clever deliberation of space to explain the infinite seems to hallucinate and de-stabilize the visitor initially but later makes them realize the interminable, limitless, expansive quality of nature.
Tate Modern has done an excellent job of showcasing the career of one of Japan's most diverse, eccentric and extraordinary living artists, who through her restlessness, has shown the world how one can win-over an ailment and deliver a productive outcome.