At the age of 10 Yayoi Kusama had her first hallucination
which she described as flashes of light, auras or dense fields of dots.
据她描述 她看到闪光 灵光或密集的圆点
The dots would come to life and consume her
and she would find herself obliterated.
Polka dots have been a lifelong obsession for her.
For someone whose work has crossed from art to fashion
and from filmmaking to performance art,
her continuing exploration of the polka dot has remained the one consistent motif.
So this is not a film about a specific artwork.
This is a film about the simple polka dot,
a dot that has obsessed Kusama for nine decades,
from her struggle for recognition to her later years as an art world sensation.
Yayoi Kusama was born in a rural provincial town in Japan to a wealthy family.
That same year the stock markets crashed
and civil unrest in Japan was followed by intense militarism.
In 1941 Japan’s entry into the war
found the 12-year old Kusama sewing military parachutes in textile factories，
a skill she would later utilize for her soft sculptures.
Her mother was extremely abusive
and had planned an arranged marriage for Kusama
and a life as an obedient housewife.
In fact she did everything in her power to stop Kusama becoming an artist,
or having any career at all,
which she said would bring shame on the family.
But art was Kusama’s lifeline,
it helped relieve her hallucinations, depression and anxiety
which she still suffers from today.
Kusama has described how at times
she feels her whole body functions breaking down,
with feelings of becoming “absorbed by” or “dissolved” within her surrounding environment.
Art is a way for her to take back control,
a way to fight her demons.
Although she was starting to get some attention in Japan,
it was a small art scene then,
and she was a woman living under a stifling patriarchal society.
Kusama needed to escape.
A chance discovery in a second-hand bookshop would change her life.
American artist Georgia O’Keeffe was one of the most famous artists in the world.
and her works were in every major museum in the US,
but she was pretty much unknown in Japan.
Yet somehow, miraculously,
a book of her paintings found its way into the young Kusama’s hands in rural Japan.
It was a revelation. Kusama was stunned by O’Keeffe’s paintings
and would explore similar themes later,
but she was also attracted to her achievements as a woman.
Kusama wrote to her in the US and sent her some drawings.
In an incredible show of generosity,
O’Keefe not only took the time to write back
but then sent letters of introduction to important people in the New York art world.
In July 1956, Kusama destroyed 2,000 old work she had created.
America would be a new beginning for the artist
and she wouldn’t return to japan until 1973.
Kusama arrived in New York with a suitcase full of drawings,
a determination to grab everything going in the city,
and, in her own words, to become a star.
同时 用她的话说 她要成名
The first thing she did was go up to the top of the Empire State building
and look down at the city she planned to conquer.
We mustn’t underestimate what a difficult task it was
for a young Japanese woman with no support,
speaking little to no English to up sticks and moved to New York
from a small Japanese town, in the 1950s!
This required monumental determination.
She went from a wealthy life in Japan to living in abject poverty in New York,
surviving on a diet of potatoes, onions, and black coffee.
No wonder she often describes how she craved fame.
It is something artists rarely discuss
but for Kusama, it would be her driving force.
The field of dots she experienced in her hallucinations
developed into a visual device: the polka dot.
This image of her mother, by ten-year-old Kusama, was the first time
she would use the dot,
and it would become her “trademark”.
We could make a comparison with Roy Liechtenstein who was also using dots.
or Bridget Riley, who was exploring Op-Art,
but for Kusama, dots came directly from within.
For her, dots were a form of healing,
and repetition of them was a way to calm her mind,
and overcome her fear and anxiety.
They were, as she said, a way to “self-obliterate”,
a way to disappear into her artwork.
In New York, Kusama began applying the polka dot to
animals, paper, canvas, walls and naked bodies.
动物 纸张 画布 墙壁和裸体上
From the beginning, Kusama played with her persona.
She was a self-styled “outsider” in America,
a female artist in an aggressively male dominated scene,
a Japanese person in the overwhelmingly white art scene,
and a victim of neurosis and depression.
She refused to be categorized or put in a box,
continuously innovating and reinventing herself.
As a critic once said:
“Miss Kusama is an artist who fits in everywhere
but stands alone.”
New York at the time was under the spell of Abstract Expressionism
but Kusama’s first show in New York consisted of
what she called “Infinity net paintings”,
starting the obsessive repetitive work that would define her career.
Kusama rejected the broad dramatic marks of Abstract Expressionism
and painted thousands of tiny semi-circles of paint
repeated across huge canvases,
invisible when seen at a distance,
but up close form an undulating net
with no beginning, middle or end.
Her work was calm and collected,
in contrast to the emotional mark making of Jackson Pollock.
The dots and nets could be traced back to her early work,
but here they were huge,
a physical embodiment of “self-obliteration”.
Her work was so groundbreaking.
It anticipated the emerging Minimalist movement,
and we can see it as a bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism.
It was a great start for Kusama.
Less than a year in the city,
and her first solo show in 1959 created an immediate buzz.
Kusama, always a workaholic, spent every waking hour making net paintings,
sometimes working through the night,
more and more of them, until her studio was full.
Not surprisingly, she suffered extreme hallucinations,
and was rushed to Bellevue hospital for her obsessive compulsive neurosis.
Installation is a term used to describe art that is often designed
for a specific place or for a temporary period of time,
and Kusama would become a leading exponent of this art form.
In 1962, she began making soft sculpture phalluses
out of cotton stuffed canvas.
This was radical work for a female artist,
and these sculptures made over 60 years ago
still have the power to shock today,
because of the juxtaposition of humor and sexuality.
Her first “official” installation was in 1963:
A rowboat which she covered in her soft phallic shapes,
presented in a space, where the walls were covered
in wallpaper reproductions of the same sculpture.
It was totally unique,
and no one had seen anything like it in New York.
Phalluses would become another theme of Kusama
who said that as a child she was forced by her mother to spy on her father,
when she caught him making love to his mistress,
it caused a lifelong aversion to sex.
One thing the art world rarely discusses is plagiarism between artists.
That is unless you are Yayoi Kusama,
who in an unusual move,
specifically addressed how her work was “co-opted” by male artists,
who then showed it in more established galleries.
Kusama would later say, it wasn’t the idea of being ripped off that bothered her
but rather the lack of acknowledgement.
Claes Oldenburg was working with hard materials in the 1960s,
but just months after Kusama’s exhibition of soft sculptural works,
he put on a show filled with soft sculptures.
It launched Oldenburg’s international career.
Kusama’s innovation in the art form received little recognition.
Then there was Andy Warhol,
a close friend of Kusama – or so she thought.
In an interview she said:
“Andy Warhol came to the show and admired my wallpaper images.”
He said: “Wow. fantastic Yayoi, I like this so much.”
他说：“哇 太棒了 弥生 我太喜欢了”
And then in 1966, he went on to cover the walls of
the Leo Castelli gallery with wallpaper.
She sank into a depression and retreated to her studio,
covering all her windows so nobody could steal her ideas
and worked in secret.
Then in 1965, kusama re-emerged
with her first “Infinity room”, called “Phalli’s field”,
in which she arranged hundreds of polka dotted soft phallic forms in a mirrored room.
Artists have always worked with perspective and infinity,
but Kusama’s work was one of the earliest installation artworks
that encouraged viewers to enter and experience
rather than passively view a picture in a frame.
The room enveloped the viewer and no longer is the viewer in control.
All artists to some extent control how we view their work,
but for Kusama, a lack of control of her health,
meant she created work that controls
EXACTLY how we the viewer perceive time and space.
Then just seven months after her infinity room failed to sell,
the artist Lucas Samaras showed a similar mirrored environment
at the established Pace gallery.
He got rave reviews, and a sellout show.
This was Samaras’s first environment,
and there is no mistaking its similarity to Kusama’s mirrored room that preceded it.
These mirror infinity rooms are arguably her most popular works,
and when we think of mirrored rooms today, we only think of Kusama.
今天 一想到镜屋 我们只会想到草间弥生
But after seeing Samara’s room,
Kusama became so deeply depressed that she attempted suicide.
In 1966, Kusama participated in the 33rd Venice Biennale,
the most prestigious arts festival in the world.
The only problem was that she hadn’t been asked by the organisers,
she just gate-crashed the event!
Without permission she showed “Narcissus garden”,
a witty take on the commercialisation of the art world,
consisting of hundreds of mirrored spheres,
what she called a “kinetic carpet”.
Then dressed in a gold kimono, she proceeded to sell each sphere for two dollars,
until the biennale committee threw her out.
There were many artists, who were aggressive self-promoters,
but none of them were women.
Kusama had to really fight, just for her voice to be heard,
and some people didn’t like that.
They criticised what they called “her excessive self-promotion and lust for publicity”,
but as Kusama saw it, she was a “living work of art”.
Her work is deeply personal and so she places herself central to that work.
Kusama had been a pioneer in minimalism, sculpture and installation art,
and now she turned to performance art.
Some of Kusama’s earliest surviving paintings relate to the horrors of war,
and she had a strong political conscience.
In 1967 she began organising anti-war protests
and happenings known as “Atomic Explosions”.
She painted her friends nude bodies with polka dots
and demonstrated on Wall Street,
demanding the government bring back the troops from Vietnam.
For all her zany public persona,
Kusama was completely serious about her work,
and as with much of her art,
what on the surface seemed almost silly and lightweight,
made a powerful statement.
Kusama was well placed to criticise war.
Her youth had been marked by the effects of the Atomic bomb,
and she was viscerally opposed to war.
She protested the only way she knew-through art.
The work brought her more notoriety but few financial benefits.
In another revolutionary performance of 1968,
Kusama even officiated at the first “gay wedding”,
having formed her own church,
the church of “self-obliteration”.
Her performances hit the news in Japan and caused a scandal,
bringing shame on her deeply conservative family.
In 1973, Kusama returned to Japan
where she was virtually unknown and dismissed.
在日本 几乎没人认识她 也没人理会她
Then in 1977, after a lifetime of fighting anxiety and hallucinations,
she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo,
and has lived there ever since.
Kusama has been open about her mental health
and remains on medication to prevent depression and suicidal thoughts.
Every single day she commutes to her studio
and works obsessively on her paintings from 9am to 6pm.
In 1989, Kusama reached 60 years old,
an important birthday in Japanese culture that symbolises a new start.
在日本文化里 这是一个重要的生日 象征新的开始
And it certainly was for Kusama!
Although she had a cult following, she was pretty much forgotten about by the art world.
Until 1989, unexpectedly The Centre for International Contemporary Arts in New York
直到1989年 出人意料地 纽约国际当代艺术中心
asked to stage a retrospective of her art.
It would relaunch her career, both internationally and in Japan.
Then in 1993 she returned to the Venice Biennale.
This time she was invited as a representative of Japan.
Kusama has finally achieved a worldwide success
that had eluded her for so long,
fuelled in some part by social media.
People queue up for hours for just 60 seconds in one of her Infinity room installations.
Each image they take of infinity,
join millions more on the Internet,
Today in her 90s,
Kusama is as productive as ever.
Often dismissed as “quirky” or “populist”,
she is, in fact, one of the most radical female artists of all time,
who made some of the most important artworks of the 1960s.
An innovator and a rule breaker.
Many artists have famously struggled with their mental health,
and like them, it is impossible to separate
the art of Yayoi Kusama from her mental health,
But why should we?
Artists like Kusama, make us question our understanding of mental illness,
and see it not as an “obstacle”, but as just another part of the human condition.
These infinite repetitive works were originally designed
to eliminate Kusama’s intrusive thoughts,
but now, as viewers,
we can experience a small part of her thoughts and feelings
in the physical endlessness of “Kusama’s world”.
At the age of 10 Yayoi Kusama had her first hallucination