Yayoi Kusama, born in 1929, is a
Japanese contemporary artist and is well known for her involvement during the 1960s
in the New York avant-garde scene, where she showcased her abilities in the
pop-art movement. She works in a range of art forms, most prominently in
sculpture and art installation, however she is also active in theatre,
painting, poetry, fashion and film. She is well known for her use of patterns
and bright colors as well as her art installation series called “Infinity Rooms”.

Stemming from a troubled childhood
plagued with mental illness, abuse and problematic upbringing in an extremely dysfunctional
family situation, Kusama’s art covers several controversial and sometimes
worrying themes. These include repetition and psychological boundaries, as a
result of her hallucinations as a young girl from various mental disorders and
physical abuse from her mother, sexual anxiety and sexuality, from her parental
circumstances and the male dominated art environment during her time, and surrealism,
stemming mostly from her voluntary habitation in a psychiatric hospital.

The piece I will be talking about
is an installation from her series of “Infinity Mirror Rooms” called “Aftermath
of Obliteration of Eternity”, created in 2009. This piece, as well as other
pieces of the series, can correspond to repetitive and hallucinatory themes of
her troubled past, in addition to the conveyed notion of death and afterlife,
which I will talk about later. The piece was constructed using various
materials including wood, metal, glass mirrors, plastic, acrylic paint, LED
light system, and water. It is currently being exhibited in the Museum of Fine
Arts in Houston.

The structure of the installation
is a cubic/rectangular room, of which the inside is lined with mirrors. The
piece is equipped with a small platform for viewers to interact with the piece.
These installations can be described as kaleidoscopic, and although we can
guess the shape of the room, it is difficult to assess the actual size of the
room (415.3 × 415.3 × 287.7 cm). The combination of the different materials creates
a sense of infinity, as the room never seems to end. The elements of the light
system, which are in the form of golden lanterns, and their flickering,
shimmering appearance, are reflected by the mirrors again and again, which
contrasts with the barren surroundings of the room. As viewers look further
into the reflection, the density and concentration of the light (lanterns)
increases, which pulls the viewer in and can create an uncomfortable
confrontation with the idea of infinity.

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In terms of color, the warm colors
of the lanterns contrast with the dark, cold void of the environment. This
creates a sense of comfort when close to the lights, which also relates to the
purpose and context of the piece, the “T?r? Nagashi” ceremony and its
connection to leading lost spirits to safe spaces. The overall composition of
the piece is constantly changing due to the flickering aspect of the lanterns,
and thus the reflection of the constitution of the piece never remains the
same. However, the piece will always retain an element of geometry due to the reflection
of the elements in a rectangular space, even though these seem erased and nonexistent
due to the infinite aspect of the piece.

When first
stepping into the room, viewers confront a tenebrous environment. However, over
time the lanterns illuminate the environment and unravel a mirage of flickering
lights and the mirrors cover every surface with the hypnotizing aesthetic. In
the course of a minute, the lights ignite bit by bit, but once the minute is
over, all the lights evanesce, and the cycle repeats itself over and over again
thereafter. Quoting Kusama explain the complexity of the piece; “Life is what I
always try to understand—its depths and its mystique of rise and fall. I
struggle for it throughout my life. From day to day, I understand the greatness
brought by this mystique as well as that love is eternal and keeps appearing
and disappearing. And what is more, I am very pleased to be alive after
realizing that I have overcome this everyday life and been able to reach today.
Yet we keep flashing, disappearing, and again blossoming out in this Eternity.”

The main idea behind this
installation is, as mentioned previously, to create a sense of infinity. When
Yayoi Kusama started creating her “Infinity Mirror Rooms” in 1965, she used the
resources in order to bring her repeating paintings and sculptures to life, to
create a perceptual experience. The purpose of the series is also to address
and accommodate our societies reborn keenness for observational experiences and
virtual spaces.

However, this
piece specifically addresses another topic; death and the impossibility of
eternity. The title of the installation conveys this conception accordingly; “Aftermath
of Obliteration of Eternity”. In other words; the repercussion/result of the
destruction of the belief in immorality, which Kusama establishes as inevitable
death. Kusama wished to underline the certitude of demise and the fact that
eternity is not a reality. However, eternity can also be defined, in terms of theology,
as an endless life after death, which
is dissimilar to immortality. If one takes into account this definition, it can
be said that instead of considering the effects of refuting the possibility of
immortality, Kusama is considering the impacts of rebutting the probability of

Furthermore, her
piece is also a commemoration to the Japanese tradition called “T?r? Nagashi”,
which can be translated to “Lantern (T?r?) Cruise (Nagashi)”. This is an annual
ceremony often performed on the last night of the summer “Obon” festivals,
which is a Japanese Buddhist celebration to honor the spirits of ancestors. The
“T?r? nagashi” ceremony consists of participants releasing paper lanterns down
a river in order to guide lost ancestors’ souls to the spirit world. The
ceremony especially puts emphasis on remembering victims lost in the Hiroshima
bombings and those who died on the Japan Airlines Flight 123.

As with most
art, the reaction and feeling viewers experience whilst interacting with the art,
is highly dependent on the individual. Some viewers will feel uncomfortable and
anxious in response to the concept of eternity, whilst others will be fascinated
by the latter. I personally feel engulfed by the idea of eternity and the spiritual
concepts behind the piece. At first, not knowing the complex intention of the
intricate experience of the installation, I identified only the resemblance and
connection to the notion of infinity, dismissing the other concepts I have
discovered through some research. I really appreciate how such a simple composition
can convey such elaborate ideas. This, as well as the use of mirrors, is
something I wish to use to inspire my piece. Something I would like to ask
Yayoi Kusama to further understand the piece is why she specifically decided to
honor the “T?r? Nagashi” ceremony (if she has any personal connection or
experience with the event) and what her beliefs are on the possibility of spiritual
aspects in our world.

In conclusion, this
relatively simple installation, at first, pleases our minds aesthetically,
however with only some research and backstory, Kusama’s spellbound,
hallucinatory and intimate installation offers a much more complex, enriched
and spiritual conception and purpose. 


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