2 April 2018

CONNECTING THE DOTS AT THE AGO: #INFINITEKUSAMA

EXHIBITION REVIEWS

BY: JULIA ZUNGRI

Many of you have probably seen the TTC streetcars and subway stations covered in red polka dots on a white background, with a hashtag #InfiniteKUSAMA. Even if you are not a follower or lover of contemporary art, it would be extremely difficult to ignore these signs of Kusama and the excitement that has permeated the city. While tickets to see the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario are difficult to come by, I was lucky enough to attend with a fellow Museum Studies colleague.

Born in 1929, Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese contemporary artist who continues to break boundaries through different art forms. The AGO presents over 90 of Kusama’s works, including her early and recent paintings, sculptural objects, her film Self-Obliteration, photographs of her performance works, as well as archival pieces related to Kusama’s earlier life, artwork, and events. The exhibition also finishes with a video of an interview with Kusama. As a visitor, I appreciated how the AGO provided such a nuanced approach to Kusama’s works that really shone light on the complexities of Kusama as an individual and as an artist.

A taste of Kusama's recent works (2009-present), My Eternal Soul. Photo courtesy of Julia Zungri.

The highlight of the exhibition is the six Infinity Mirror Rooms spread throughout the fifth and fourth floors. Kusama began using mirrors in 1965, with her Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli’s Field. The rooms create kaleidoscopic environments that engage the visitor, prompting them to reflect on ideas of time, space, and our connection as humans to the universe.

The six Infinity Mirrored Rooms are: Love Forever, 1966/1994, The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013), All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkin (2016), Phalli’s Field (1965), and Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity (2009). Two other rooms are Dots Obsession – Love Transformed Into Dots (2007) and The Obliteration Room (2002). As tickets are difficult to come by, this means that almost every time slot is sold out and requires a 10-20 minute wait for almost every room, which can only be entered in maximum groups of three for between 20 to 30 seconds (so if you’re in a pair, you make a new friend!).

You won’t be bored waiting, though! Most lineups are placed alongside walls with text, and/or have stands throughout the line with a text panel, encouraging visitors to actually read! The interpretative strategies employed in this exhibition are excellent! This was not a text heavy exhibition, and rightly so: it is all about the experience. As someone who does not have a strong contemporary art background, though, I valued the information that the AGO did provide as it gave me just enough context to admire not only Kusama and her works, but also the impact she has had on society and the art world.

Examples of what awaits you while lining up to experience the Infinity Mirror Rooms. Photo courtesy of Julia Zungri.


You go, Kusama! Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.



















The Infinity Mirrored Room – Love Forever reflects the civil rights, antiwar, and sexual liberation movements that stemmed from activist groups throughout the 1960s. As you peep your head into the room, the image of your face, as well as the person adjacent to you, are repeated ‘forever’ throughout the space.

Me in the Love Forever Room. Photo courtesy of Tabitha Chan.

My two absolute favourite Infinity Rooms are The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away and Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity. Both rooms present a repetitive illusion of lights and are completely dark except for the lights hanging in the space. You cannot see your reflection in the mirrors as well as you can in the other rooms, therefore suspending your movement and encouraging you to look and reflect.

The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away is particularly interesting, as I have always been fascinated by space and time: 20 seconds passes quickly, but for a brief moment your body becomes infinite with the room through the mirrors, providing some sort of ‘afterlife’ in space after death. As an aside, I also felt like I was reliving a scene from Interstellar.

In The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away Room. You really want to visit now, don't you?!
Photo and video courtesy of Julia Zungri.





Similarly, the obliteration of the body is a reoccurring theme throughout Kusama’s works. In the Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity Room, the body disappears, prompting reflection on the idea of death and the afterlife. The space harkens back to the Japanese toro nagashi ceremony that sends paper lanterns down a river to guide ancestral spirits to resting places. The room, in fact, did feel like I was surrounded by infinite rows of lanterns. For me, the Room has an air of melancholy, but also exudes tranquility: being in a room that looks infinite for about only 20-30 seconds gets you thinking about the temporality of life and space.



The last room in the exhibition is The Obliteration Room. Obliteration reoccurs again, but in this case it is the obliteration of the original pure, white room. Each pair of visitors is given a sheet of stickers to place throughout the room to participate in the final construction of the space. Again, Kusama invites us into her world, encouraging us to think about what the bright dots mean to her and to us, and to obliterate not only the room, but ourselves as we leave a piece of us behind.


Tabitha and I in The Obliteration Room. Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.

Just as Kusama accomplished in the art world, the AGO likewise breaks boundaries in the museum world. This was certainly a one-of-a-kind museum experience. While others may be annoyed to wait in a queue, I was fascinated by the concept of waiting in line to experience the Infinity Rooms, as if I were waiting in line for a ride at Wonderland. I cannot think of a better way to end my two years as a Contributing Editor to Musings than to review one of the most popular art exhibitions of the year (and likely for years to come). Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is a unique and unforgettable experience, and is worth the wait. After all, we become infinite at the end.

If you haven’t seen the exhibition and still don’t have tickets, don’t fear! Throughout the run of the exhibition until May 27, there are a limited number of same-day tickets available to purchase at the AGO beginning at 10 am. Click here for more information about tickets, the exhibition, and Kusama.

And that's a wrap, folks! It has been an absolute pleasure writing for this blog with fellow amazing writers the past two years. Many thanks to all of our readers - writing for you has been incredibly rewarding! While you have not read the last of me, for now, thank you and farewell.

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