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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011




Today I am interviewing Dots Obsession, a piece by Yayoi Kusama, an artist renowned for her use of recurring patterns and environmental experimentations. The work consists of a bright yellow room, covered in black polka dots, containing a number of large vinyl balloons in the same pattern. I enter the Wellington Art Gallery with some measure of trepidation. After all, how does one interview an inflatable vinyl environment? Will I stand on its face when I enter the room? Where do I look?

Marrow: ... hello?

Dots Obsession: [a booming sound gradually starts to fill up the space] ... Hello.

M: I’m sorry, did I wake you?

DO: Yes. But no matter. Please sit.

M: What can you tell me about yourself?

DO: Polka-dots is where it all started, I am one of the many products of Yayoi’s obsession with her visions.

M: Many say you remind them of their childhood, the imagination of that time. Is this your experience?

DO: Oh yes. This bright yellow and bold pattern are evocative of children’s playthings, clothing and so on. The fact that I comprise an entire environment in this pattern also transports the viewer in an imaginative and playful way. For children the experience is doubly magnified. But everyone is a child really. We do not grow up but only learn how to act more appropriately in public. Yayoi did not want me to be about politics or money, an ‘art as hard as diamonds’, as she would say.

M: I understand Kusama rejected all labels, yet her work still fits within many 20th-century movements such as Surrealism, Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism , and Minimalism. What is your take on this?

DO: I am a manifestation of Yayoi’s sub-conscious. Her brain contains many aberrations as a result of childhood abuse and the social context of World War Two and its lingering effects in Japan. It has produced beautiful and surreal results. The ultimate result is intensely personal and distinguishable from other work.

M: Can you give me an example?

DO: Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show. A boat covered in protruding stuffed phalli sits in the middle of a room, the walls covered in posters featuring the same boat. This was a counterpoint to Andy Warhol’s Cow Wallpaper. An assertion of the real over the fake, the original over the facsimile. Her earlier work had a distinctly handmade feel, an imperfection distinguishable from the systematic and mechanical productions of Minimalism and Nouvelle Tendence. This has changed with time. I am not handmade. But it is pedantic to focus on categorisations rather than visceral sensations. To which approach did you lean in entering me?

M: You make a relevant point. But given her success, can it really be said she was that mad?

DO: What is madness? Living on the edge of existence? Oh, yes. But she was clever.

M: How so?

DO: She understood the machinations of the human mind. Our desire to be obliterated. Our compulsion to stereotype.

M: Can you give me an example?

DO: Wearing a witch’s hat and sorcerer’s robes in my pattern in her older age. The photo of her lying naked on her stuffed phalli couch in her twenties. She acknowledges stereotypes at the same time as using them to her advantage, thus manipulating our entire system of categorisation.

M: What do you think of Kusama’s stuffed phalli Accumulations?

DO: A reaction to a male-dominated art world. Phalli taking over stereotypically female articles, phalli dominating all. In Yayoi’s repetition she can make banal and ordinary what was once sacred.

M: You mention Kusama a lot, how do you feel about her?

DO: I am Yayoi destroyed and reincarnated. It is not a question of emotion but of being. I accept my nature as an extension of her madness and do not feel anything in regards to this fact.

M: How then does her work relate to the viewer?

DO: I can feel that you want to intellectualise this experience but you must try to forget yourself. Forget the personality you have constructed for yourself, lose yourself in me. The human tendency is to normalise the experience of living. It becomes mundane and everyday, task after task - this is the only way most people can see to cope with the absurdity of existence. In her madness Yayoi understood something of this and I am this realisation - a conception of infinity, eternal time, absolute space, but connected like these polka-dots. We are all mad here. It is simply that most people will do anything to avoid this fact, rather than face self-obliteration.

M: What do you mean by self-obliteration?

DO: Fully accepting and experiencing the truth that we know nothing. Where did we come from? Why? What for? The fact that the earth is just one polka-dot in an infinite space of polka-dots. The fact that we will ultimately die. Even I will deteriorate into nothingness. It is a terrifying realisation. But we also come to better appreciate the mystery that is life and to understand freedom and adventure, daring to do something, to speak, to dance, to talk to each other, to be naked like the performers in Yayoi’s Naked Happenings. It is liberation.

M: Damien Hirst interviewed Kusama in 1998 (coincidentally we’ve also interviewed his The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living who also discussed death and related issues). You talk of liberation but in that interview it seemed as though she wasn’t very happy in her old age. Quite lonely in fact.

DO: It is true. Yayoi was always an outsider. But like she says, loneliness is a matter of perspective and cured with the passage of time. But I never said this wasn’t complex.

With that our time is up. I thank Dots Obsession and leave feeling an affinity with this strange work. It’s hard to know how to exist, what moral choices to make. But speaking with Dots Obsession, I feel a beautiful perspective. I hope I can remember that.

Interview by Kari Schmidt