Lose Yourself in Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms at Tate Modern
Updated: Mar 20, 2022
Until 11 June 2023, Tate’s George Economou Gallery hosts a Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition that features not one, BUT TWO Infinity Mirror Rooms alongside a timeline of her becoming and other lesser-known artworks.
“I, Kusama, who have lived for many years in my famous specially-built room entirely covered by mirrors, have opened up a world of freedom and fantasy.” (Yayoi Kusama)
Why is Yayoi Kusama so popular?
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist best known for her extensive use of polka dots and for her immersive infinity installations that engage the disorienting properties of mirrors to create an effect of unending replication. Throughout her eight-decade long pioneering career that creatively covers numerous art styles like Minimalism, Surrealism and Pop Art, incorporating design, writing, music, and fashion, she crossed paths and inspired important artists including Joseph Cornell, Donald Judd, and Andy Warhol – her use of motif repetition on wallpaper preceded Warhol’s by three years. Noteworthy works include Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli's Field (1965/2016) and Obliteration Room (2002–present).
What is an infinity mirror room?
Yayoi Kusama is known as the artist behind the famous “Infinity Mirror Room” art installations but what exactly is an infinity room? An infinity mirror room is created by installing lights and mirrors to create the illusion of an interminable tunnel in an enclosed space. Mirrors are conventionally used by interior designers to make smaller rooms seem bigger, therefore, in this case, the magnifying effect creates the sensation of endless space.
Kusama’s intention is to make the visitor aware of time passing by using pulsating lights that remind of a ticking clock or a heartbeat. She also blurs the conventional distinction between the visitor’s self and the artwork as mirrors confuse us while they help us become a part of the art installation.
Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms Exhibition
The Tate Modern exhibition is focused on two of Kusama’s infinity rooms named “Chandelier of Grief” (2016/2018) and “Filled with the Brilliance of Life” (2011/2017) (see a short video of the experience here). Starting with the 1960s when she was living and working in New York City and throughout her impressive career, Kusama has created a total of twenty distinct mirrored rooms. Since the 2000s, they have typically become darkened spaces with countless small lights, resembling a physical word in an out-of-space galaxy of stars, way beyond the earth’s atmosphere.
Chandelier of Grief is the first Infinity Mirror Room in the Tate exhibition that combines her interest in self-perception, participatory art, and ceaseless repetition. The white exterior blends in perfectly with the gallery, but you can’t miss it as there’s usually a small queue at the entrance. Above the introductory text on the wall, you’ll see Kusama’s invitation to:
“Forget yourself. Become part of your environment. Become one with the eternity.”
Once you step inside, you’ll notice a sumptuous, rotating chandelier with flickering lights hanging from the ceiling, bending the space into infinity. You have the feeling of being surrounded by a never-ending field of lights and among them, you’ll see your reflection. Each visit is unique and the visitor becomes part of the Chandelier of Grief experience. The title hints at how we often encounter sadness and beauty simultaneously.
Infinity Mirrored Room - Filled with the Brilliance of Life is the second Infinity Room in the Tate exhibition. Visitors get to move along a reflective path over a superficial pool as tiny lights are limitlessly reflected by the water and the mirrors. As the dotted LEDs pulse and change colours, they create a feeling of kaleidoscopic, disorientating dreaminess.
The exhibition also features the Walking piece - the performance recorded by Kusama when she moved from Japan to NYC in 1958. She’s pictured walking around the city, ironically insisting on portraying the stereotype of a Japanese woman: she’s dressed in a traditional pink kimono and holds a beautifully decorated Japanese umbrella.
Following the Second World War, racist anti-Japanese propaganda made New York brutally unwelcoming, particularly to Japanese artists whose works were evaluated by rather focusing on gender and nationality.
Walking Piece uses a distorting fish-eye camera lens to capture the isolation, the loneliness of living in the NY city while feeling out of place. Dan Goodley metaphorically describes the circumstances in one of his interdisciplinary studies published in 2016 - as a foreign artist living in NYC, Kusama “was disabled due to a person-environment mismatch.”
Much of Yayoi Kusama’s art is based on mirrors, dots, and repetitions, all drawn from her childhood when she experienced visual hallucinations that made her feel like she was dissolving or disappearing. She describes this feeling as “self-obliteration” and through her art, she tries to make sense of it and share it with the world.
Starting with the 1970s, her mental health problems and hallucinations became acute, but she continues to create from a studio located near the Tokyo hospital where she admitted herself in 1977: “I write poems, novels and I also paint in the hospital. They are my saviours.”
And if you feel the pressure of a sensory overload, you can hide away in the quiet room that Tate has made available for neurodiverse people, families, or anyone who would like to catch their breath after navigating through the gallery environment. You just need to cross the bridge over to the Natalie Bell Building.
*All photos were taken by Ina/WithinLondon, unless stated otherwise.
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