Stepping into Space

The universe is made up of 200 billion trillion stars – a number so inconceivable that it is hard to imagine. Most people will never experience the true expanse of the cosmos, only seeing a snippet of the galaxy on the clearest of nights. This vastness is central to Yayoi Kusama’s (b. 1929) largest artwork to date, Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life (2011 / 2017). An environment of mirrors, platforms and water, concealed in a box room, reflect and multiply twinkling lights. Shimmering orbs delicately flicker and change colour before submerging the area into a deep, all-encompassing darkness. When the constellation returns, viewers spot their bodies amongst the lights – floating in outer space. The loop continues, encouraging a detachment from reality.

After two minutes, attendees are ushered out and return to Earth with a bump, journeying on to learn more about the persona behind the installation. The wider exhibition at Tate Modern, London, details Kusama’s monumental rise, from her early life in Matsumoto, Japan, to international attention in 1960s New York. Images and quotes provide a timeline of career highlights and the creation of lesser-known works, including Walking Piece (1966). The performance follows the pink kimono-wearing artist, as she walks around industrial areas in her new American hometown, examining feelings of being out of place by visually merging two cultures.

Elsewhere, John Jones’ (1926-2010) recently rediscovered c.1965 film offers a glimpse behind the construction of the instantly recognisable Kusama brand. The figure has since featured in collaborations with high end companies, lending her signature polka dots to Veuve Clicquot’s champagne bottles and morphing into a look-a-like robot for a recent Louis Vuitton pop-up at Harrods, London.

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms has also become an embodiment of this phenomenon, with multiple extensions, over 390,000 visitors and thousands of images shared on social media. Despite this unprecedented popularity, the show proves itself to be more than a backdrop for an Instagram selfie. It is a chance to “become one with eternity.”

Tate Modern | Until 28 August

Words: Saffron Ward

Image Credits:

1. Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room-Filled with the Brilliance of Life, (2011 / 2017). Tate, Presented by the artist, Ota Fine Arts and Victoria Miro 2015, accessioned 2019 © YAYOI KUSAMA
2. Yayoi Kusama, Chandelier of Grief, (2016 / 2018). Tate, Presented by a private collector, New York 2019 © YAYOI KUSAMA Courtesy Ota Fine Arts and Victoria Miro