Big one here: this will take a while..
YaYoi Kusama (b. 1929),the internationally famous Japanese artist, checked herself into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill in 1977. This was to become her permanent residence, a short distance from her studio where she still works, having produced novels, short stories, poetry, paintings, fashions, and most famously and recently six Infinity Mirror rooms – installations travelling to five museums in the US and Canada - at the Art Gallery of Ontario where I stood in line patiently to get 20 seconds inside each room.
It’s all the time I would ever want. I am vulnerable to vertigo and the Rooms put me on the verge. They are cube-shaped rooms lined in mirrors with flickering lights (one with spasmodic strobe lights) on all sides and the ceiling. A description tells me there was water on the floor, but I was not aware of it. One floor, I remember, the first one, was thickly planted with white and red protuberances – sort of phallic. Kusama has a thing about penises. The devastating room for me was studded with tiny lights magnified and reflected to infinity – yes.
I was reminded of the Marvel-comic-based movies about The X-Men. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) rides his wheelchair into a vast room on a ramp leading into and looking over a space studded with tiny lights, each one representing the life of a mutant in the world. (Go see the movies.) Twenty seconds of a Kusama room was all I wanted. A staff person opens the door to indicate the time is up and three of us dutifully filed out. Three people at a time are allowed in; the ramp space is tiny. I was single and assigned a companion couple each time but at this last one when I was alone, a staff person came in with me. I asked her if anyone had had a seizure in the room. She was sort of non-committal but I gathered some sort of affirmative. Not surprised.
I was also reminded of another Mirrored Room I saw a long time ago now but I Googled it and it’s still there, installed in 1966, part of the permanent collection in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, by the Greek-American artist, Lucas Samaras (b. 1936). I actually described that room and its effect in a novel (unpublished) I wrote about a woman artist obsessed with self-portraits and therefore with mirrors. (It’s explicitly sexy; I’m sure I couldn’t write it now – fading memory and all.) Well, when I looked up the Mirrored Room, Samaras was the first one in the Google line-up; second was Yayoi Kusama.
The final room we entered was the Obliteration Room, a large gallery furnished with ordinary chairs, sofas, tables and so on. Each participant – that’s us – was given a slip of paper decorated with multi-colored, sticky circles of varying size. We were invited to stick them anywhere in the room, on the walls and furniture, wherever we pleased. This was the fifth week of the Kusama exhibition with I don’t know how many pilgrims who have attended before us, so the room was COVERED with polka dots (another of Kusama’s obsessions). It was, in fact, obliterated.
Talk about hands on! If Rembrandt were alive today he’d roll over in his grave and yet he had his own obsession with mirrors, obviously: he painted a lot of self portraits.
I was also reminded of another famous Japanese woman, Marie Kondo, about three and a half decades (she lists her birth year as “circa” 1985) younger than Kasuma but listed in Time magazine as one of the “100 most influential people” in 2015. She tidies things. See The life-changing magic of tidying up (translated from the Japanese).
When Kasuma was ten years old she experienced her first hallucinations – “flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots”. When Kondo was in junior school (similar age?) she tided up the bookshelves while her classmates played and experienced a breakdown and fainted. When she came to, two hours later, she realized her error. She had been looking for things to throw out.
“What I should be doing,” she said, “is finding the things I want to keep. Identifying the things that make you happy: that is the work of tidying.”
And she tells you how to make your socks happy. (The trick is in the folding.)
Kondo’s trick of organizing is called the KonMari method and that’s all I’m going to tell you.
When I finish my present spate of work, I’m going to tidy up my life/files. And then I’ll have more room. Not mirrored, of course, but my own.