Cosmic Play: An Interview with Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama. Photo: Gautier Deblonde. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London
Yayoi Kusama. Photo: Gautier Deblonde. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

For Sleek 42, Fun & Games, we spoke to legendary artist Yayoi Kusama, the artist of  galactic delight and serious jest. Read the full interview below.

Sleek: your famous polka dots are a sea of spots which migrate, or rather dance over, pictures, furniture, installations, rooms. To what extent could you describe this phantasm as a reflection of the personal?

Yayoi Kusama: polka dots are the symbol of the spiritual peace and love, and the starting point of all of Yayoi Kusama’s hopes and thoughts. While there is Dots, there is Kusama.

Can we interpret your polka dots not also as blind characters of the psyche?

In this universe, the moon, the sun, each and every star, my own life, your life, they are all a single polka dot among billions. I have love and awe towards all these things. I want to send my earnest wish of overcoming conflicts and terrors of the world, the wish of peace for the people.

How is it possible to overcome the pitfalls of life – or in your case a psychological disaster – with apparent or real playful aesthetics?

Every day I am creating a new world by making artworks. I wake up early in the morning and stay up late at night, sometimes until 3am, just to make art. I am fighting for my life and don’t take any rest.

Your versatile work includes painting, sculpture, and the Happening. How does the public react to your spectacular “Nude Happen-ings”, or even the time of your daring appearance in a supermarket, when you wore a decorated dress with countless phalluses?

The crowds that had gathered to watch [the Happenings] reacted with delighted squeals, mournful shrieks, and angry shouts… they all continued to stand there, riveted by what they saw. As the Happenings gained notoriety, I acquired more and more fans. Reporters would corner me and excitedly ask about the next Happening, and the crowds grew in size and enthusiasm. This, I believe, is because I was in the vanguard of providing what the times demanded.

In New York in 1969 you opened a fashion boutique with self-designed transparent clothes and so-called “mod clothes”. How did the public accept this quite purist and flamboyant range of fashion?

The Kusama Fashion Company produced and sold dresses and textiles decorated in polka dots, which were sold in hundreds of stores and boutiques across the US. The Nude Fashion Company was an offshoot of Kusama Fashions. The idea was that clothes should bring people together, not separate them, without the need to completely disrobe oneself. The goal of the Nude Fashion Company was to expand distribution of these dresses, being based on fresh ideas and [being] practical for enjoying sex, into the mainstream.

Is the pleasure of playing not something that can best live out in the community? In other words, is the audience the real power, the icing on the cake of your all-over structures?

I was the creator and choreographer [in my Happenings], but never the participant. This was how I expressed myself.

You once said: “I create art for the healing of all mankind.” Is this vision already partially fulfilled for you?

In my decades of work, I have always thought of humankind’s love and world peace. I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieves my illness is to keep creating art. In recent years the world has become unpeaceful and full of turmoil. As an artist, I think it is important to share the love and peace and hope to deliver that to people who are suffering and do not have the opportunity to enjoy the joy of art. The fact that I paint helps me to keep away thoughts of death for myself.

Can you please explain what you meant once with the statement: “By obliterating one’s individual self, one returns to the infinite universe”?

By covering my entire body with polka dots, and then covering the background, I am in with polka dots as well, I find self-obliteration. My own mass is therefore absorbed into something timeless. And when that happens, I too am obliterated.

The collector Eli Broad has recently purchased your audience favourite “Infinity Mirrored Room” of LED lights and mirrors. When the installation was first exhibited in New York, at the David Zwirner Gallery, people stood in line for hours. How important is this awesome installation in your vibrating cosmos?

To create an endless mirror room had been my long-cherished dream. The psychedelic images of lights make the world a kind of kaleidoscope, mirroring the light at the root of all things and luring anyone who entered the room towards infinity world. This was the materialisation of a state of rapture I myself had been between life and death. This was my living, breathing manifesto of love. Thousands of illuminated colours blinking at the speed of light – isn’t this the very illusion of life in our transient world?

Small animals or amoeba-like organisms, pumpkins, fish, eyes and even profiles of a woman’s face form the pattern of your new paintings. Is it hard to coordinate in your mind and body this ambivalence between control and overflow, repeated pattern and all-over structure?  

No, it is not hard. My imagination is beyond what people think. It is infinite. I could paint directly without any design and I never suffered from a shortage of ideas to present the human’s profound presence. This creativity is the big hope to live my life. I am very grateful that this kind of philosophy had been well accepted and evaluated though out my career.

Interview by Birgit Sonna


Taken from Sleek 42, Fun & Games

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