Confronting Infinity with Yayoi Kusama
Confronting Infinity with Yayoi Kusama
The queue for eccentric Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s latest exhibition, her first since 1993, snaked around the block; even at 2pm on a Tuesday. We were directed to the end of a ninety-minute line outside the Victoria Miro Gallery in Islington and all to spend thirty seconds in a series of mirrored spaces. Was it worth it? Hell yes, it was. The star attractions, among the paintings and fairy-tale pumpkin sculptures, are her intriguing mirrored art installations which have caused a stir all over the world. This is in part because of their beauty – they were built for the Instagram age – and for all our intelligence, we are still like moths to a flame where pretty lights are concerned. More arguably, though, their popularity can be attributed to the way Kusama has tackled a concept that fascinates and terrifies us in equal measure: infinity.
The definition of infinity is ‘the undefinable’, and in a world where everyone and everything is categorised, we struggle with the idea of something we can’t quantify. Kusama’s mirrored installations approach the concept of space in a variety of ways, with the most obvious being the physical. We are aware we are entering a small, confined space, yet we lose our sense of awareness once the door is closed and we come face-to-face with the endless reflections of ourselves.
Until the 30th of July this year, the gallery played host to the three mirrored rooms, the result of over half a century of experimentation by the unique artist. Chandelier of Grief houses a glittering chandelier twirling in the middle of the box, sending specs of light dancing around the room. The installation is as theatrical as it is thoughtful and toys with our perception of light – we are bombarded by the echoes of the dazzling centrepiece.
Outside, in the waterside garden, Where the Lights in My Heart Go relies on natural light as it enters the box through the small holes dotted around the mirrors. Though decidedly less glamorous than the other two boxes, it is perhaps all the more jarring for it as we step out of the sunlight and into the solitary confines of the box. We can feel the breeze of the outside, we can see the infinite reflections around us – like stars in the sky – and yet we are not privy to either. We are wilfully trapped in the liminal.
The final installation and perhaps the most awe-inspiring, All the Eternal Love I Have for Pumpkins, is playful and atypical of Kusama. Glowing phosphorescent pumpkins surround us as we walk up and down the short pathway in between, though we ourselves are only able to move a few steps forward or back. We are made to feel as though we are navigating an endless field of pumpkins growing ethereally out of the abyss. Wonderfully absurd, it demands we live in the moment; it forbids us from questioning our hallucinogenic existence until the door reopens and we wander, blinking, back out into reality.
Having control taken away from us completely and being forced to simply exist in the midst of it all is a powerful experience that restricts all our senses except one – eyesight. It commands us to instantly readjust without question. We are much more willing to accept this state within the confines of art, though, and can suspend our disbelief because we know it is only momentary. We are acutely aware, albeit completely enthralled, that there is an end in sight to this type of endlessness. We readily give up our control to the promise of an experience, but also to the promise of a culmination – an ending to the boundless.
We spend our lives inherently looking for ‘somewhere to land’, to get things straight in our mind, to make sense of the world around us. How liberating it is to live now and question later, to confront infinity and only see it for its beauty and not fear its endless capacity. To free ourselves from the unceasing battle between simply accepting the way things are and the urge to question and quantify.
There are many questions as to whether infinity actually does exist, or whether it is simply a figment of our imagination, dreamed up as the ultimate ‘miscellaneous category’; to absolve ourselves of the need to know and satisfy our need to label. Mystery is seductive, it gives us hope, fuels our wonderment and sparks a curious fear inside of us that helps colour our existence. Yet we may never experience it – except, for a few seconds inside a little mirrored box, invented in the infinitely creative mind of an idiosyncratic artist.
Written by Anya Meyerowitz,
Exhibition photographs owned by Victoria Miro gallery