SKMU Sørlandets Kunstmuseum is proud to present Yayoi Kusama’s multi-media installation Dots Obsession – Love Transformed into Dots (2006).
The work is part of a larger series of installations called Dots Obsession, which Kusama began in the 1990s, at the time when she was experiencing a renaissance of sorts in the international art world. The installation combines several of her most frequently used motifs. Her trademark, the polka dot, spreads across large balloons that hang from the ceiling, lie on the floor and float about the room. The public can lose themselves in a world of dots and enter one of Kusama’s ‘infinity rooms.’ Kusama herself is covered with polka dots as she sings from a suspended video projection.
Yayoi Kusama’s installation is part of SKMU Sørlandets Kunstmuseum’s marking of the centennial for Norwegian women’s suffrage. SKMU has chosen to devote all of 2013 to women’s art, women’s art history and issues related to women’s rights and opportunities. In addition to a revised, critical look at our own collection and how it represents women, we present Kusama’s installation alongside a retrospective of works by the local pioneer of Norwegian textile art, Else Marie Jakobsen (1927–2012). Jakobsen’s practice involved deep political and social engagement, and over time she became one of Kristiansand’s most known and loved artists. Kusama represents a contemporaneous and international narrative as a pioneering woman working in an art scene dominated by men. What these two share is a life-long artistic practice with a prodigious production that bears witness of the necessity to express oneself through art—often despite a lack of recognition from society at large or the art establishment, or an ability to make ends meet as an artist.
Yayoi Kusama’s (b. 1929, Japan) early artistic training was in traditional Japanese painting (Nihonga), and by ten years old she was already a prolific drawer and painter. In 1958 she exchanged a tradition-bound Japanese environment for New York City’s energetic art scene. In just a few years she became one of the few women to gain a central position in the emerging American avant-garde. At the time, she was making ‘infinity nets’ in large formats. She established close ties to artists such as Mark Rothko, Donald Judd, Frank Stella, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol and Joseph Cornell.That a woman with a background like Kusama’s could clinch such a position in the 1950s is startling in itself.
In the 1960s Kusama set out on a far more experimental artistic practice of working with soft sculptures and installations. Her results were no longer experienced as objects but as environments. The installations began eventually also to include lights and mirrors—thus the creation of her first Infinity Mirror Room in 1965. She also experimented with happenings and performances, sometimes appearing as an element in her own installations, other times involving members of the public and entering public spaces in a more radical way. She supported homosexual rights and the burgeoning hippie movement. She criticised the politicians and the establishment for going to war through naked performances. Kusama wanted people to see how beautiful the human body is and how ridiculous it was to kill each other.
Kusama’s radical and wide-ranging artistic research in the 1960s has left deep traces in her later production. The polka dots are often thought to be related to her own hallucinations and mental maladies, but she herself has expressed that they are a means for her to explore her own position in the world—she sees herself as one dot amongst infinitely many, a microscopic fragment of a large universe. Holding this in mind, Dots Obsession – Love Transformed into Dots can be read as a gripping existential work about the transcendent power of love and a will to lose oneself in a larger unity. Or to put it in Kusama’s own words: “Forget yourself. Become one with eternity. Become part of your environment. Make love.”