Friday, October 3, 2008

Yayoi Kusama's Happiness through Self-Obliteration

Be quick if you have the opportunity to visit an amazing exhibition at the Boijmans van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, for until October 19th the work of Yayoi Kusama is displayed there. In my opinion this is one of the most fascinating artists ever, because her work is so intimately connected to her own psyche which represents very much the problems people faced in the 20th century and still, and with which I can very much identify. Frustrated by the superficiality of technology and information overload, Kusama has spent her life escaping this by creating her own repetitive universe of polka dots or 'infinity nets', in a drive to show people how everything is one, and how we can "become one with the Absolute, all together in the altogether" and "lose our egos in timeless eternity, and finally discover the naked truth".

It appears to me that she tried to embody the cosmic energy underlying all of which we are part in one symbol, the dot, which she applied in her paintings, sculptures, but also on her own body and that of others. The latter she did in the 1960's in her controversial 'Happenings' in which she for example gathered up a group of people to dance around naked at well-known sites such as Central Park, while painting each other with dots. Also, she covers spaces with mirrors to create a feeling of infinity, which is quite mind-bending if you stand inside it, as shown in the image above. All this Kusama did to make people see and feel that they are "just another dot" in an eternity of dots, as opposed to having to struggle in developing an essentially illusory self-concept that can be framed into an equally illusory, culturally constructed system.

But Kusama ignores one fundamental notion, in that also representing both the hippie movement and many contemporary escapist cultures like gamers, Otaku, or Harajuku, namely the notion that simplifying life does not come through imposing simple elements onto it, but through mastering the complexity through intelligent thought and action. Human culture and individuality is part of the cosmic whole, which is never an absolute but always transcending itself through processes of chaos, separation, and union. It is through aligning one's ego and individuality into a larger whole to which it can devote itself, that a deeper meaning arises. Kusama, in escaping this and commenting on it in a rather superficial way, has probably done what she could have done as an artist, but when looked upon more critically it is apparent that it is actually quite contradictory that she tells people to be part of a unified whole by ignoring the actual unified whole.

Now that we are ignited by such artists, it is time that we passionately learn to really transcend the brittle systems we have created.

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