A couple of months ago, Peter and I wandered into an all-white room in the Auckland Art Gallery during the first moments of an opening show. The exhibition tour had already visited London, Buenos Aires, Shanghai and other hotspots. The room, set up like a typical New Zealand home with lounges, dinette, kitchen, piano and TV, lay in wait to be covered by visitors with sticky dots. Within minutes, a flurry of grade-schoolers exercised their born obligation to vandalize the pristine little homestead with stickers. Like many starts, it was sputtered, incoherent, and a bit anti-climactic.
A couple of days ago, an update from the museum came over the wire — a picture of the same white room, now obliterated with a pointellist blur — a sea of eye-jam, depthless and obscuring anything familiar.
Even the original dots from day one, carefully placed by visitors in an attempt at personal narrative or design, were now nothing more than characterless drones in a hive of visual effect. I sensed the passage of time and all the big and little things that have happened since early December. Like a new clock, the obliteration room had hauled me through the past and into now. With the blankness eradicated, clobbered by time, a quiet nudge emerged: The most dramatic alterations are made with patience and togetherness.
In addition to this mini-epiphany, the now-covered room reminded me of one of the greatest things about painting. While hyper-individualistic, paintings have the power to go out into the world while preserving the maker’s invisibility — heaven for an introvert with verbal diarrhea. While I basked in the perverse pleasure of the obliteration room in Auckland from my spotless white bed in California, I considered my own, lifelong appetite to mark up a blank page. While art-making may appear at first to be a maneuver of the ego — an effort to stick out, to shine — perhaps in our own creative obliterations we are, in fact, merely attempting to satisfy a longing to be nobody. Could we be driven by the yearning to disappear?
PS: “By obliterating one’s individual self, one returns to the infinite universe.” (Yayoi Kusama)
Esoterica: Eighty-eight-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has explored the ideas of disappearance, immersion, camouflage and covering for most of her life. The patient taking over of spaces and objects with her motifs has been an effort to connect us as collective transformers and parts to-the-billion of a larger whole. After a lifetime of art production, Kusama is now, possibly, the most famous living artist on the planet. Alone and obscure in our own studios, obliterating the blank canvas, might we attempt to disappear entirely, replaced only by the day’s creative best? “My life is a dot lost among thousands of other dots.” (Yayoi Kusama)
Yayoi Kusama’s “Obliteration Room” continues at the Auckland Art Gallery until April 2, 2018.
The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.
Sara will be speaking at the closing reception/panel discussion for the group exhibition “Nod to Mod” at Dab Art/H Gallery in Ventura, California this Saturday, February 3, 2018 from 3-5pm. All are welcome!
“Polka-dots can’t stay alone; like the communicative life of people, two or three polka-dots become movement… Polka-dots are a way to infinity.” (Yayoi Kusama)
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There’s a hush… a palpable electric presence radiating from some of the paintings in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and in the galleries of the Frick Collection.
I greatly admire the work of Yayoi Kusama. She has turned her obsession into a beautiful body of work. We as artists can only hope to be as dedicated.
Art is awesome! This a great piece Thanks Sara
Well said Greg… and Sara!
Interesting concept on how to possibly become smaller while our artwork becomes bigger (or less of ourselves) ….ego becoming an obliterated drone there too. Good one. Thanks Sara
Isn’t this our greatest fear?… Maybe that’s why it’s inspiring. I’ve drawn, painted and animated myself disappearing many times.
Wow Sara, you make me smile.
Thank you for this article.
I was born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand but now live in Texas, USA. Although I never visited the gallery in question, I knew where it was. Interesting!
Fascinating brain fodder! Thanks so much for your insightful and provocative letters, Sara. I’m going to head to my studio and immerse myself in the obscurity of a blank canvas.
About 100 years ago, the Armory Show offered the deconstruction of visual art in a widely-viewed exhibit and changed the world of the visual arts for decades. Music was changing in similar ways, culminating in the likes of John Cage and others who produced either total silence or cacophony. Dance followed the same trend, having graceful, superbly trained dancers rolling around on the floor instead of showing us the beauty of movement and the human body. And Jacques Derrida popularized his notions of deconstruction of literature, telling us we could not really grasp the intended meaning of any author but had instead to bring our own meaning to the text, thus theoretically making written communication virtually impossible. Now we have a museum show dedicated to the deconstruction of space and objects themselves. Sorry, people…the Emperor is painfully naked. All of these disciplines were once devoted to increasing the beauty, wonder and meaning of our lives. Now they are seeking to destroy whatever beauty, wonder and meaning they can. Count me out of such a world.
Yes, Steve. I agree. Aesthetic expression is so much more uplifting, than destructive messages. I do like the idea of everyone being able to be a part of the white room to a pointellist reidentification of the space. It’s fun, and– like singing in a choir–one is thrilled to be a part of a beautiful whole. But I care not to be a part of harmonic discord nor of self-disassociation. That is not my message. My use of “the gift” is to bring joy, pleasure, peace, inspiration and good will. (Call me old-fashioned, but I want to die at ease with what messages I have given.
Eloquently put Steve!
Much more eloquent than what I was going to say.
Steve, what you’re describing is the end of Modernism. We wanted to eliminate everything previously thought to be indispensible – verisimilitude, narrative, line, color, etc. – a search for the essence of art. Finally, Sol LeWitt did away with the art object itself. The conceptualists pulled back the curtain, and … no wizard! That was it for me. Since then it’s been every artist for him or herself. No more manifestos, no agreed upon direction to march, hence no avant garde. About the same time scholars were losing interest in the structuralists and desconstruction. (I loved Derrida, though.)
But I don’t think that’s the obliteration Sara is talking about. She seems to mean the elimination of our ego, satisfying “a longing to be nobody,” a yearning to disappear.” A whole different thing! The artist’s greatest fear, right? – fading away, our work forgotten! Yipes.
Yes, I believe that Sara has been clear in her focus on the artist, not on the museum event, so I agree with you about her focus, Warren. But my comments were not directed to her discussion of disappearing artists and egos, etc. They apply to the direction of the arts in general as evidenced by this exhibition at the museum.
On the other hand … that IS the state we have to be in to create! Obliteration of the ego, loss of self-consciousness, the Zone! As Emily Dickinson wrote, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” Yes, my creativity depends on that disappearance of the self.
So maybe THAT is what Sara was longing for. It’s only later, after the ego kicks in again, that that fear I was talking about above returns. Pathetic. But real.
“My name is Nobody,” said Odysseus to the Cyclops, just before he nailed him.
STEVE, YOUR EVALUATION HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD………………..
I agree with you, Steve. Why offer discord when harmony is so much more soothing?
“….the modern Alice in Wonderland”, an interesting letter in a way, but a little too far down the rabbit hole for me.
The disappearance to become whole, A Part and apart. There is an inherent dichotomy in all things, a balance of polar opposites. To hold both we must be still. When we move resolutely towards one we loose the other. Artists have a great capacity to be divisive, to draw lines in the sand. I would not wish to loose any dot because it holds meaning for someone if not for me. In harmonies there must be different notes. In the unfolding of the universe how do we imagine our painted surfaces will remain. The notion of legacy seems absurd except to see ourselves as “apart” of a growing and evolving consciousness. Yearning, learning, longing, we meet it with our playfulness, with our joy. That’s how we know to do it. The joy is evolution’s insurance that we will play and Kusama’s art is nothing if not playful.
Lighten up bys! There’s room on the broom…….
Well said, Catherine! That’s what I was getting at above – the dichotomy of self and no-self, of being a part and apart, worrying about our legacy or playing with a brush. Remember Mickey’s broom in Fantasia – it had a life of its own!
Has anyone noticed that the works of our own Leah Marie Dorian have similarities to the works of Yayoi Kusama? Leah Marie uses dots a lot! I saw her work in Saskatchewan and was impressed! Maria Sieben
During the final weeks of this installation all colored dots should be replaced with black dots. That way- the white room obliterated with colored dots can fade to black- leaving no white and no color behind… Universal Annihilation…
Ahhhh. I am wishing I could be in Ventura for the evening.
In effect, if Alice got a $10 coin once, and then spent it twice, then eventually, when Bob (the issuer of the $10 coin) was asked to redeem both coins, he’d find in the first a spend whose ‘secret’ he couldn’t see because it had been obliterated by the process of having been received by Alice, and then additional information about the same secret in the second, canceling the obliteration to reveal that “ALICE SPENT THIS COIN.