March 16th, 2011
(click to enlarge)
Yayoi Kusama, Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009, Mixed media installation, image source: 16 miles of string
So I was thinking about Kusama’s art the other day (I know, I might as well hand this site over to her by now!), and how everyone cites her cutesy colorful polkadottiness when summing up her style and work. This does a disservice to the range of her imagination and style. Take the above works — both fairly muted and undotty (granted, “Narcissus Garden”‘s metallic spheres are sorta big fat 3-d polkadots), both lacking in that particularly unsettling brand of Kusama-cute, & both stunning examples of her work with multiples & repetition.
I love how these pieces overwhelm the viewer with their beautiful, luminous abundance. Less biomorphic, texture-driven, lysergic-alice in wonderlandish & alien pseudopoddy, the two works I’ve presented here impact in a more rarefied, minimalist way: metal orbs in water; candles suspended before mirrors. There is no alien egg narrative here, no oversized pumpkins, no squishy tentacles (all of which I love) — instead light, reflection and multitude beguile the viewer who enters their space.
“Aftermath” is haunting with its fiery shower of sparks against black, its look of a city as you fly over it at night. Eerily apocalyptic and christmas-tree magical/innocent all at once. Everything depends on those mirrors exploding all sensation into sumptuous & scary infinity. Golden dream dust and white phosphorous eating down through a block of night. I wish I could have walked through this space for a few minutes! I’m grateful to have some photos that exist of it.
”Narcissus Garden”‘s a different critter, out in the riverbank open vs. “Aftermath”‘s negative-space matrix. Still, some of the impact is the same: the overwhelm of the hundreds of balls, the mysterious beauty that straddles the unsettling (giant lizard eggs? odd alien artefacts? bombs? swamp eyes from some nameless underwater sludge-beast?) and the serenely non-narrative (the gentle click of the orbs in the current, the texture of them bearing you up as you recline upon them, the way they catch the light and clump together in the water, the way their perfect sleek forms look against the tall spiky grass). You get lost here in the same way as in “Aftermath”, you want to stand by the orbs and just be in their presence.
Have you ever stood before/inside of an installation piece and wondered: “Jesus, all this work and for what? Have I been moved, transported, have I gained anything by inhabiting temporarily the artist’s vision? All five senses at the installation-artists’ disposal and she chooses to toss a bunch of Bazooka bubble gum wrappers in the corner of a room with a speaker in the ceiling piping in Alvin & the Chipmunks? Calling the piece: ‘Dachau Symphony #2321′?”
I have, all the fucking time unfortunately. That’s why I’m so glad when artists like Kusama get installations right. If you’re going to bring a human into a space you’ve crafted, give them beauty, vastness, wonder. Make them want to linger in the spell you’ve woven, not scratch their head and worry over whether they’ve gotten the joke. Give them delicious and slightly disquieting mysteries. Give them a couch on the beach under the moon. Give them them a fantastic dream they won’t want to wake up from.
All writing © copyright C. Way / Snailcrow.com 2011