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Rooms, Little and Infinite

Updated: Jan 26, 2019

By Julian Rankin

“I live and have my being in a world of space and forms which have color and shape. Consciousness of this means being alive.”

- Walter Inglis Anderson

Inside the exhibition Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors (which I visited at its final North American stop at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta), kaleidoscopic spaces, many about the size of a storage container, serve as portals to the infinite. The door closes, lights flash and dim, and mirrors do the work of exploding time and space. But only for 20 or 30 seconds, the time allotted per room, per visitor – on account of the crushing demand for these selfie-rich environments.

Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos. Polka dots are a way to infinity.

- Yayoi Kusama

Infinity Mirrored Room — Dots Obsession - Love Transformed into Dots, (2008)

Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, (2013).

Infinity Mirrored Room — Love Forever, (1966/1994).

Kusama’s avant-garde practice is decidedly analog (the oldest of the rooms were made in the 1960s). Inside, pumpkins and tuber-shaped sculptures litter the ground, grids of lights cover the floor and ceiling, and polka dots reign supreme. When electrified and aglow in their mirrored environments, they become alien locales and disco dreamscapes. I was reminded of how the simplest of materials, when oriented in the confines of a small little box, can captivate human imagination. And when I thought of timeless immersive rooms, I thought of Walter Anderson's "Little Room."

Walter Anderson, Creation at Sunrise (Little Room)

When I feel the beauty of a flower or the trunk of a tree, I am at once inducted into a world of three dimensions and have a range of form which is the opposite of artificial forms and conventions.”

- Walter Inglis Anderson

Yayoi Kusama has been celebrated by the art world for decades, but her rise in the consciousness of the masses has been aided by a fascination with the experiential and an indominable social media frenzy. If anything, the demand for access and the dearth in ticket supply has only heightened the appeal – a self-fulfilling paradigm that regenerates ad infinitum. The exhibition also includes paintings, sculptures, and multimedia materials, but the infinity rooms seize the focus.

“… In the universe, there is the sun, the moon, the earth, and hundreds of millions of stars. All of us live in the unfathomable mystery and infinitude of the universe…”

- Yayoi Kusama

Kusama was born in 1929 in the town of Matsumoto, Japan, near her parents’ plant nursery, around the same time that Walter Anderson was returning to Ocean Springs, Mississippi to begin his life’s exploration into the wilderness frontier. Kusama’s experiments with abstraction and scale zoom in and out on the organic materials of the physical world, rendering microscopic amoebic forms and a panoramic star-filled multiverse. Anderson’s compacted universe, contained most quintessentially in the brilliantly painted quarters of his private little room (discovered after his death in 1965), expresses a similar cosmic relativity from the vantage point of the human eye. His animals, plants, moths, and colors exist beyond the confines of time; a perpetually renewing and coexisting dawn and dusk, one life cycle of a day forever in motion.

Walter Anderson's "Little Room"

“Nature does not like to be anticipated … but loves to surprise; in fact, seems to justify itself to man in that way, restoring his youth to him each time.”

- Walter Inglis Anderson

Like Kusama, Walter Anderson investigated the chemistry of dynamic matter, notably in his block prints of fresh and salt water, free-flowing and crystalline. “I, Kusama, am the modern Alice in Wonderland,” she once said. Walter Anderson echoes her through his illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s canonical text.

Self-obliteration, a term used by Kusama, suggests a jettisoning of ego amidst the sprawling cosmos. Anderson came to his own epiphany through a belief in the power of individual agency and artistic vision; through the process of making, achieving a realization that all things were connected, with perspectives as multitudinous as nature’s infinite variety.

Yayoi Kusama

“The thought of continually eating something like macaroni, spat out by machinery, fills me with fear and revulsion, so I make macaroni sculptures. I make them and make them and then keep on making them, until I bury myself in the process. I call this 'obliteration.'”

- Yayoi Kusama

Infinity Mirrored Room—Phalli's Field (1965)

In the mirrored rooms, horizons hurdle on forever. Skies emerge, reflecting and coalescing in a brewing mist.

“More fog this morning," wrote Walter Anderson in his Horn Island Logs. "It is an element like paint. One feels or tends to feel that everything is made of fog.”

One feels that if he or she were to step into the artwork, a threshold would be crossed, a new and boundless world unfurled.

“I think I will be able to, in the end, rise above the clouds and climb the stairs to heaven, and I will look down on my beautiful life," says Kusama.

These rooms – diminutive yet expansive – are magnetic and emotive. They engage the nature of reality and of being, reproduced and reinterpreted by the artist’s hand through building blocks as humble as polka dots and house paint. Both metaphorically fracture the laws of physics, just as they contemplate the metaphysical elements of nature. Perhaps our layered realities can never to be fully understood, but they are always available to be glimpsed and occupied; by those willing to see (and sometimes, queue up) and those adventurous enough to immerse themselves in a paradoxical present, at once fleeting and everlasting.


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