At once dark, cold, full of light. Then warm, uncanny and familiar, controlled and free, asexual and erotic, lonely and loving, Yayoi Kusama's retrospective at the Centre Pompidou is not merely an exhibit of an artist's work. This is like landing in a new dimension filled with color and polka dots and long, radish-like growths, like being inside a brain, exploring the complexity of a strong and vulnerable mind, of a woman who made metaphors concrete, and illusions into reality.
(Image: Yayoi Kusama, Self-Obliteration by Dots (detail), 1968, performance, documented with black-and-white photographs by Hal Reif.)
The black-and-white poster outside has a young Yayoi standing in a room in a white body suit and hat with polka dots, holding a polka dotted cup, near a polka-dotted chair and a polka-dotted suitcase in a polka-dotted room. The dots give dimension to the empty space, her standing upright renders the composition of the chair on the floor, the suitcase distinguishes the wall from the floor, providing latitudinal depth to a room where there is no horizon and all this, together, tell the story of self-obliteration by dots.
"My life is a dot lost amongst thousands of other dots," Kusama says. She merges and scatters into the rest of the universe, egoless, akin to the osmosis between her life and her art. It is only ironical, then, that she voluntarily removed herself from society in 1974 and enrolled in a mental hospital, and that she is a dot that stands out: unique both as a character and as an artist. The poster for her film called Self-Obliteration says: "Come as you are, Leave as you will be." It portrays Yayoi painting young men and women's bodies in blue, red and yellow dots in an orgiastic atmosphere of love, sex and art. Primary shapes in primary colors transposed on primary acts.
(Image: Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Room (Filled with the brilliance of life), 2011, Installation view at Centre Pompidou, Mirrors and colored lights. Courtesy of the artist and Centre Pompidou, Paris)
With this idea swirling in mind, we walk into the first installation. A dining room, black-lit, with neon pink, green and yellow dots all over it. The entry space (where the viewer usually stands and observes) and the dining room are united, the viewer and the floor are united, then the ceiling and all the walls, then you fuse into the dining room though you are not in it and you let out a breath, circular, "O".
Yayoi calls her dots "infinity nets", catching the liberating aspects of repetition and the setting free of the constraining aspects of form. Large (approx 12x15 ft) canvases in whites, yellows and reds portray her obsession with dots, which expand without beginning, end or centre. As with Op Art, one's vision is forced to zoom-in and out frantically. These dotted fields are endless and yet they are systematic, they are monochrome yet they contain numerous shades, they are the grain of the canvas magnified into a dot magnified into one large dot. The dull shade of blue in Kusama's white is reminiscent of an ocean, or a sky, and seems to dissolve into the Pompidou's blue pipelines above and white floors below. The viewer becomes sensitive to freedom and imprisonment in thinking about the paradox of Kusama's infinity net, how life might not end in death, but lead to a rebirth, and that birth to another...
(Image: Yayoi Kusama, Compulsion Furniture (Accumulations Series), 1964, Photocollage and paint. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery)
In another room is her Accumulation Series, where Yayoi uses round adhesives to produce the same effect of paint on canvas. These too, reveal a surreal pairing of wounds and healing. She gathers mail stamps, fake money and sticks them onto canvases repetitively, meticulously. She paints her sofa, her clothes, her shoes, her food in silver and glues onto them bundles of phallic protrusions, then stacks them on a bed of pasta: an abnormal, edible living room, both sublime and hilarious.
Towards the end is a tiny Infinity Mirror Room that, in the same vein as Self-Obliterate, Self-Recreates in a sense. Round colored lights hang from the ceiling at different heights in a mirrored room, changing colors as some go off and some go on. As we pass through, the evolving patterns or colored lights and the infinite mirroring of them instills an almost sacred, complete light within. We feel infinite, full, whole, re-affirmed. We giggle at the magic of it, or the science of it, and child-like, yearn to dive into the floor, or fly into the ceiling, and, open to everything, obliterate.
In the last exhibiiton space, a series of Yayoi's recent paintings, which take on shapes, forms and stories whilst still utilizing the dot as her motif, fill the walls. It is the titles, however, Eyes of Mine, This Tale of Blue is Filled With My Life, that are emotionally stirring and contain contemporary truisms of the kind that are spoken by Seers, or those with No Fear. Her poetry dominates through these titles, bringing us a personal look into her thought-life.
(Image: Yayoi Kusama, Dots Obsession; Infinity Mirror Room, 1998, (Les Abattoires, Toulouse), Mirrors, balloons, helium, paint. Courtesy of the artist and Centre Pompidou, Paris)
Yayoi Kusama, in merging with the universe, is everything at once. She is a novelist, a poet, an artist, a film maker, a fashion designer. She is also a little child and an old woman. She is a dot and the spaces in between. Loving and lonely, erotic and asexual, free and controlled, familiar and uncanny, and always whole.
~Himali Singh Soin, a writer from India.