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Kusama - An Extraordinary Life

23 March 2012

Not many artists voluntarily admit themselves to a mental institution, but as London Calling's Jenny Conlon explains, this hasn't stopped the brilliance of Yayoi Kusama's work being shown off to the world.

On entering Yoyoi Kusama's exhibition, one could be mistaken for entering Willy Wonka's chocolate factory with her giant red and white polka dot floating displays. The vibrant explosion of coloured objects that greet you appear initially beautifully eloquent and calm. As you learn more about the Japanese talent you realise she externalises her mental instability and projects and moulds her inner emotions, turning them into mesmerising pieces of art. Kusama describes her art as a therapy which cures her from her disease. She evokes and awakens this festering disease as it weeps through the majority of her works. As you meander your way through the exhibition you feel that you travel through generations of Kusama’s life and experience things through her eyes. 

What's most intriguing about her life is how she voluntarily admitted herself to a mental institution at the age of 44 where she has remained ever since. Kusama does not distinguish herself from her works, she does not hide behind the canvas as she regularly has herself photographed in front of them and becomes part of her own picture. She experienced hallucinations from childhood and describes it as a time spent being physically abused by her mother and disconnected from her father. She also expressed suicidal thoughts from an early age and is quoted as saying 'If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago'.

Her phallus – covered works are referred to as the Sex Obsession series and her relationship with the opposite sex is not presented in a favorable light as these phallus covered pieces are unattractive in appearance and look similar to overgrown turnips. Kusama was heavily influenced by the 1960's during time in New York where she found her freedom and experimented with her sexuality. She often organised explicit happenings in public places many of which involved nudity and painting polka dots onto those who took part. Her white bland fabric phallus-encrusted rowing boat complete with oars, which is on display at the Tate, gives the impression that she feels trapped in a male dominated society. This could reflect her time spent in a male dominated New York art scene where she classed Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg as close friends.

The experience of the Kusama exhibition is of another world, Kusama's world, and her escape from reality. She reveals her love for confinement and normality but on the other hand experiments with the need for escape through her installations. Her darkened room- sized installation 'I'm Here, but Nothing' is a living room filled with normal everyday furniture and domestic appliances. The entire room is covered with fluorescent stickers which glow in the low light. She relishes and excels in a world of eccentricity and puts her own stamp on traditional life. 

On leaving the exhibition you travel through room 14 which is Kusama's latest infinity mirrored room known as 'Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life'. It's a magical mystical experience that gives you a natural high, dreamlike and balmy. This omniscient room completes your journey through Kusama's life leaving you feeling deeply cultured and inspired. Just like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, you’ll soon discover why Kusama has that golden ticket!

 

Yayoi Kusama is at the Tate Modern until the 5th June 2012
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