Yayoi Kusama: Life is The Heart of A Rainbow

Yayoi Kusama: Life is The Heart of A Rainbow

My second experience at Museum Macan, a modern and contemporary art museum located in west Jakarta. This time, it's an exhibition solely dedicated to Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese contemporary artist known for her eccentric sense of art. Her works are mostly based on conceptual art with attributes in feminism, minimalism, surrealism, abstract art, pop art and abstract expression mixed with autobiographical, psychological and sexual content. Known for her Infinity Mirrored Rooms and signature obsession for dots, the 'Life is The Heart of A Rainbow' exhibition feature over 130 of Kusama's artworks spanning from 1950 throughout and explores the development of her iconic themes and interconnections through her career.

A brief study on Yayoi Kusama

Born in 1929 in Matsumoto, Nagano, Kusama began creating art and writing poetry at the age of 18. Raised by an affluent family of merchants, her childhood was anything but grand and merry. Her mother was physically abusive and her father was no better as a player who'd fool around with many women. Having been made into a spy on her father's affairs by her mother, Kusama grew up developing a sense of fear and contempt towards sexuality, particularly the male body and genitals. As a result, the artist once expressed her distaste and obsession with sex, resulting in refusal to have sex with anyone for years.

At the age of 10, Kusama began experiencing vivid hallucinations in flashes of lights, auras and dots. She started seeing flowers that spoke to her, patterns coming to life and engulfing her. She carries these projections into her career, which she labels as 'self-obliteration.' By 1950, Kusama began covering surfaces with polka dots, a pattern that has become her trademark today. The expansive fields of dots, which she calls 'infinity nets', are said to be taken directly from her hallucinations.

One of the most obvious questions people tend to wonder about Kusama is the cause behind her hallucinations. In 1977, Kusama decided to check herself into a mental institution where she chose to permanently reside in Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill. A studio nearby serves as Kusama's sanctuary for her to create her amazing, amazing artworks.

While there are a lot of things about Yayoi Kusama I find impressive, it is best to check and read them out yourself. Below are some videos about Kusama that would help give some of you a little bit more about her.

Infinity Mirrored Room "Dots Obsession"

My partner and I booked our tickets a few days in advance because we're sure there are going to be a lot of people who'd check this exhibition out. We bought the 14:00 ticket and had to queue 30 minutes before we managed to gain entry. The place was crowded and quite jam-packed, particularly with millennials and the newer generations who visit the museum for the sake of taking social climbing Instagram selfies, which I'll rant about more later. Once we were in, we decided to queue up for one of Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Rooms, the Dots Obsession room. The room is very small and only fit about two to three people best. It features suspended vinyl balloons and peep-in mirror dome where no matter where we are facing, we will only be surrounded by our reflections. Each of us was given only 30 seconds to take pictures so we couldn't really stayed so long. I couldn't take as many pictures from different angles either.

Narcissus Garden

One of my favorite artworks from Kusama is her landscape installation featuring steel spheres being arranged randomly, accompanied by a giant portrait of young Kusama herself lying down and surrounded by these spherical "mirrors."

The first Narcissus Garden went all the way back to 1966 at the 33rd Venice Biennale where the uninvited Yayoi Kusama boldly arranged 1,500 silver mirror balls with an accompanying sign, "YOUR NARCISSIUM FOR SALE." Dressed in a gold kimono with a silver obi, the artist interacted with visitors by offering the balls for sale for two dollars each.

Despite her disapproving action being put to an end by Biennale officials, Kusama managed to gain the attention of international press for her willingness to connect art to an everyday experience.

The thing I found ironic is how many people are willingly using this installation as nothing more than just their selfie backgrounds. The name 'Narcissus Garden' seems to resonate brilliantly with how these visitors are treating the concept. Things get even better when I read about the concept behind this installation, where one's ego and narcissism are to be highlighted through these reflective spheres. I couldn't help but to find it sarcastically amusing how the above picture is today's portrayal of "Narcissus Garden" — the 'garden' itself being our social media feed.


Body and Performance (18+)

One of the best, if not a little different, exhibitions was the Body and Performance dark room. Since no photos and/or flash was allowed, neither my partner nor I could take any shot. I didn't mind it though, since it's a form of respect to the museum's regulation. It did  me off how I spotted one person sneakily taking a picture with her camera which was why when someone decided to sneakily take a picture, I felt angry right then and there. Do these people care more about their Instagram than being respectful? Unbelievable.

The Body and Performance exhibition features a series of documentary 'experimental performances' photographs called 'happenings.' The photographs, taken in several iconic locations such as Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park and Wall Street, were Kusama's way to face the changing social and political environment in 1960-1970s United States. The selected pieces of these controversial happenings are known variously as Body Festivals, Naked Happenings and Anatomic Explosions. Fuelled by feminism and sexual liberation, Kusama painted naked people with polka dots as a form of expression "against America's self-serving individuality." Like her theme, these photographs contain nudity and exposed sexuality hence the age restriction. I, however, think that it is quite unnecessary because nudity is art when done right. But I understand how this is a necessary guideline for Indonesians who are still pretty much into prudishness.

The Obliteration Room

This is probably one of the most popular installations available in the museum with the other being her Infinity Mirrored Room "Brilliance of the Souls" (one I did not get to try because the queue was insane.) The Obliteration Room started out as a pure white, "blank canvas" room. Visitors are then given stickers to 'cover' the room's nook and cranny. The idea here is that Kusama wanted to invite visitors to participate, to interact with her work and I honestly find that very, very engaging. It's a nice way to have people look at art from a different perspective other than just standing there in silence. And, as I expected, majority of the people were too busy taking Instagrammable selfies than finding chances to appreciate the art. For this exhibition, though, I can totally understand why people would want to spend as much time as possible to take pictures.

I've made a post on Instagram about how I interpret this but just to spare anyone from having to click an external link, here's my opinion:

Before these splash of coloured stickers, the room was pure, clean white. For me, this is an analogy to life and innocence. When you were born, you're white. Pure. Innocent. As you move forward in life, you learn to taint this innocence through the things you learn and do; colours are vibrant, yet they may represent good and evil. Once you're alive, you won't be able to keep that innocence any longer, if there is any. Whether it's the colour of vibrant red blood or the joyous shades of blue skies, there is no more saint in any of us. The moment these colours start to stain our soul, the white we once saw will no longer be visible. Yayoi Kusama called this The Obliteration Room and I totally understand why the name comes as so.

Likewise, I resonate with the concept Kusama tries to deliver not only in The Obliteration Room but also in her other iconic works that involve the idea of 'self-obliteration' and symbolically representing it in the form of disperse polka dots. It comes as a little surprise to me too, how I am able to connect with some fine art pieces. I feel like she is the only artist whose works I can resonate on an emotional level, at least for now.

when will I get a boyfriend who knows how to take good pictures of me? geez.

My overall experience

Compared to my first Museum Macan experience, this time it was a mixture between anger and happiness. I was happy to have the chance to view Kusama's iconic artworks even if I didn't get the chance to try out every Infinity Mirrored Room available. Still, my second museum experience felt more relatable than the first one where most of the works were paintings I couldn't really, you know, emotionally digest. To summarize, let's just say it wasn't a total regret on my part.

Now, onto the negatives. Let me say this straight on: I am sick and tired of disrespectful millennials flocking in a museum just to take selfies and treat every art work as their selfie background. I am disgusted by the people who interrupted me and my view when I was enjoying an artwork and reading its information tag, telling me to "step aside so we (they) can take some pictures." I also wanted to punch the guy who stepped forward and blocked the artwork when I was in the middle of taking a picture (it was one of the best artworks too! I'm still so pissed!) and then acted like he did not just interrupted someone and went on to ask his friend to take a picture of him. What an idiot.

I am aware that people may appreciate art differently. Some of us take pictures to keep as memento while others prefer appreciating art in silence. I personally have no problems with people who take pictures because I do too but things are not okay when art is appreciated solely because "they make good backgrounds for more Instagram selfies." I feel like this is the kind of internet and youth culture we live in; you visit a trending place, takes as many selfie shots as possible and then post them on social media to let the world know how much of a cool kid you are. I'm sick and tired of how people these days are so brainwashed by social media trends that the true value of art has been submerged by waves of "who gets the most likes."

Maybe to some people, I sound like a pretentious, art loving expert...or a snob, or a little shit — whichever you prefer. Still, I'd like to think I'm better than the disrespectful people who disturb other people's experience and disregard the museum's regulations because apparently, the curation of their social media is a first world, first degree problem.

Aside from the foolish interruption, I really do hope the next stage of Museum MACAN is something that I am able to look forward to. As a matter of fact, I slowly feel like I am looking forward to more museum visits in the future.