Yayoi Kusama “Fireflies on the Water”

Yayoi Kusama has an installation on view at the Whitney entitled “Fireflies on the Water” (2002). Kusama is well know for her use of dense patterns, polka dots, nets, and depictions of seemingly endless space, delivers another endless alternate reality with “Fireflies on the Water”. She also has a retrospective opening at the museum July 12th, and I am super excited about it!

Kusama first experienced  fame through her ground-breaking exhibitions and “happenings” during the 1960s. 83-year-old Ms. Kusama, rarely makes appearances in the U.S. and has resided permanently (and voluntarily) in a Japanese mental hospital since the 1970s. Today she is one of Japans most prominent contemporary artist and a certified feminist-badass all around.

“Fireflies on the Water” and the upcoming exhibition is organized in collaboration with Tate Modern and sponsored by Louis Vuitton. Louis Vuitton, never afraid to collaborate with pop artists, (remember the collaboration with Takashi Murakami?) is sponsoring it’s first exhibition, making the transition from collaborators to art patrons.

“Fireflies on the Water” fits into Kusama’s canon of work, with its illusion of limitless space and repetition of lights. The dark room filled with little lights, mirrors, and water can only be experienced by one viewer at a time. To see the work visitors must pass through a 30-inch-wide doorway and travel over a 30-inch- wide platform with no edge protection. For obvious reasons, this piece is not wheelchair accessible. Viewers stand in a mirrored room with water and 150 colored lights. Each viewer is allotted one minute inside the room, beginning from the time the door is shut. Viewers are reminded that they are not allowed to take pictures, or leave the raised platform, but once the door is shut people are left in the room unsupervised.

My experience in the piece was interesting and full of contradictions. I felt claustrophobia and at the same time engulfed by boundless space. It was unsettling to see my reflection moving farther and farther away, each time become more obscured and abstracted by the reflections-of-reflections. Alone in the room, with no music and only lights all viewers find a solitary moment. It’s interesting and deliberate decision artists make installations that can only be experienced one person at a time. Seeing things alone as opposed to experiencing something with other people drastically change one’s experience. What would be a great party space, becomes a place of meditation and contemplation when seen alone. The allocated minute inside feels long, but is also fleeting enough that viewers never completely acclimate to the space. “Fireflies on the Water” is interesting to say the least, and definitely work checking out for yourself.

Kusama also has a solo retrospective opening at the Whitney July 12th. I am super excited to see it. Stay tuned for that review!

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