This is a very thoughtful and well written exploration of Yayoi Kusama’s work through the lens of Sullivan’s Art Practice as Research by laurelitz.
Yayoi Kusama – I Who Have Arrived in Heaven
Yayoi Kusama is a famous Japanese contemporary artist, born in 1929, who first travelled to the U.S. in 1957 (Kusama, p. 1). She started painting using polka dots and nets around age ten, but was told by her conservative family that she would eventually have to quit art in order to marry a rich man and become a housewife. Yayoi then “knew she would have to escape” in order to pursue her artistic dreams (YouTube: Tate).
Yayoi is a fascinating contemporary artist whose theory and diverse studio practice investigates social norms, gender issues, war, and the unknown. In the 1960’s she utilized body art, fashion shows, and environmental installations to stage anti-war protests (Kusama p.1). Yayoi experimented with different art making practices, and returned to Japan at one point due to exhaustion and trauma. While travelling back to the U.S. on numerous occasions, she now lives voluntarily in a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo (Binlot, p. 1).
Yayoi’s work between 1990 and now is experiential and autobiographical in nature, as she uses the trauma and hardship she has experienced in her lifetime as fuel for new artwork that immerses the participant (YouTube: Tate). Her practice is a form of inquiry as she researches her relationship to the world, and in her latest exhibition, her impending death. I Who Have Arrived in Heaven, the name of the full exhibit at the David Zwirner gallery in Chelsea, NY, features 27 paintings, one mirrored Infinity Room, and a video installation (Zwirner). Yayoi completely absorbs viewers into her pieces, transforming spectators into participants.
Yayoi began creating ‘Infinity Rooms’ as far back as 1965, installations which feature walls covered in mirrors, creating a room within a room. Her most recent Infinity Room, ‘The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away’, “hundreds of multicolored LED lights, suspended at different heights and dangling from floor to ceiling, transform a room into what feels like eternity” (Alice). Another Infinity Room at this exhibit, ‘Love is Calling’, “involves a dark, mirrored room filled with vividly blinking tentacle-like spotted forms sprouting from both the floor and ceiling” (Binlot). According to multiple articles, however, the most ‘revelatory’ part of this exhibit is Yayoi’s ‘Manhattan Suicide Addict’, a video in which she sings a song about her struggles with depression throughout her life as artwork streams behind her. Her words seem hopeful as she describes what will happen to her in the twilight of her life: “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” (Binlot).
Sullivan would characterize Yayoi as an ‘Artist-Theorist’, as “art world constituencies not only serve as interpretive communities that extend the outline of the art experience, but they are also sources from which the artist actively draws upon…within the context of research, this implies that the visual image as a change agent and the research outcome as one that helps us understand the transformative power of art knowledge” (Sullivan, p. 178). Similarly, Sullivan might classify her work as ‘Enactments’, as Yayoi explores sociopolitical issues, her own life, and the lives of others “using strategies such as visualizing problems (her impending death) and critiquing social spaces (the Infinity Mirror Room)” (Sullivan, p. 208).
Yayoi’s artwork blurs the lines between the artist, the viewer, and the art itself. This is the basis of art education and art as inquiry; by living the art, Yayoi’s work is reminiscent of the philosophies of John Dewey- that art is experience, experience is art, and we learn through both of these things. She researches her own experiences, hopes, and fears through visual art making, in order to visualize what may happen to her in the future. Her art practice is research as she “reconsiders the inextricable relationship between theory and practice” by immersing herself and other viewers into the physical environment of the artwork. This total immersion of the participant into the Infinity Room removes the control from the hands of the viewer into the physical space of the artwork. This concept is research and inquiry as the experience gives all involved new knowledge of themselves; as surely the physical act of visualizing, designing, and making the installation provided Yayoi with her own new sets of knowledge and meaning.
“Part of the legacy of conceptualizing studio art practice as research is the opportunity it gives to reconsider the inextricable relationship between theory and practice. Assembling new historical and critical traditions of fine arts alongside equally diverse studio practices means that the alliance between the artist and the art writer is seen as a shared collaboration that investigates the artwork in a speculative quest to explore the unknown” (Sullivan, p. 184). The implications within art education include the experiential and reflective aspects of art and education. I believe that the power of Yayoi’s experiential artwork inspires reflection, which can be further deepened with written and oral reflection. As Yayoi blurs the lines between art theory and practice, I too would hope to one day educate this relationship in my classroom. At the least, I hope to expose my students to artists similar to Yayoi, who endeavor to immerse the viewer in the concept being researched and expressed.
Alice. (2013, November 18). New Mirrored Infinity Rooms in New York. (n.d.). - My Modern Metropolis. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/david-zwirner-yayoi-kusama-infinity-rooms
Binlot, A. (2013, November 12). Yayoi Kusama Contemplates Life and Death in Technicolor. The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/11/12/yayoi-kusama-contemplates-life-and-death-in-technicolor.html
Kusama, Yayoi. Biography | Yayoi Kusama. (n.d.). Biography | Yayoi Kusama. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://www.yayoi-kusama.jp/e/biography/
Sullivan, Graeme. Art practice as Research: Inquiry in the Visual Arts. 2 ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 2010. Print.
Tate. (2012, February 6). Yayoi Kusama: 9 February - 5 June 2012. (2012, February 6). YouTube. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRZR3nsiIeA
Zwirner, David. » I Who Have Arrived In Heaven » David Zwirner. (n.d.). I Who Have Arrived In Heaven » David Zwirner. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://www.davidzwirner.com/exhibition/yayoi-kusama-9/