Originally from Japan, Kusama studied painting in Kyoto before moving to New York in the late 1950s. Since gaining recognition in the mid-1960’s her artistic endeavors have spanned painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, performance, film, printmaking, installation and environmental art as well as literature, fashion and product design.
Kusama’s well-known polka-dot motifs have their roots in hallucinations from which she has suffered since childhood; to her the world appears to be covered with these multiplying forms. Her works cross between abstract-expressionism and minimalism, however she has no interest in such things, seeing her work as self-therapy.
Her white ‘Infinity Nets’ (which were first shown in the late 1950’s) received critical acclaim. Formed by the repeating of painted semi-circles, tightly packed, the insides of which reveal polka-dots of the grey or black wash beneath. From a distance, this lattice of arches appears to merely be a gradient, however when viewed more closely their intricacies are reveled and feel as though they could go on indefinitely. These works have been an ever existing part of her practice for over half a century. She continually revisits them, primarily using white but also exploring other colors. The paint openly displays the process of the nets’ construction, making evident the obsessive diligence with which they were made. Early in her career Kusama would compulsively produce these marks, giving them precedence over eating and sleeping. Even now her focus is single-minded as she relentlessly paints. She has said that these nets are a visualization of the hallucinations. Kusama’s psychological ill health has plagued her all her life, her primary symptom being a sense of depersonalization, of feeling removed from reality. In 1977 Kusama checked herself into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill where she eventually took up permanent residence. She has continued to live there, by choice, also having her studio just a short distance away.
I am fascinated by the fact that Kusama has been consistently producing these ‘Infinity Nets’ for a large portion of her life. I wonder if her view towards them has changed over the years? Has repeating this particular mark so many times changed her understanding of it? Also, is it the process, or the final outcome which she considers to be her therapy?
I want to personally explore all these questions.
‘Driving Image’ 1966 – Covering objects with her Infinity Nets
‘Mirror Room (Pumpkin)’ 1991 This is just one of many installations by Kusama. Here she has completely covered a gallery space with yellow and black polka-dots, from floor to ceiling. In the middle of the space sat a mirrored box (the size of a small room), reflecting the polka-dots and therefore becoming camouflaged. The inside of the box was also covered in mirrors. Papier-mâché pumpkins were placed inside, also surrounded by mirrors, creating an endless sea of polka-dot forms. The pumpkins could be seen through a small square opening in the side of the box, which could be reached by standing on a small polka-dot step.
At the opening of the exhibition Kusama wore a long sorcerer’s robe and peeked hat, both of which matched her environment, causing her to become one with the space. She then became an active part of the space by offering tiny yellow and black polka-dot pumpkins to anyone who entered.
This room was an experience. The chance to step into the artists’ mind and begin to live one of her hallucinations.