Selfies As Performance Art…

Ai-Ling Wu, Lin Ding, MC Gayoso…

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The Yayoi Kusama Selfie Chamber

In 2015, the LA Magazine said the following about Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrored Room”: “two things are certain: long lines and lots of selfies”. This is exactly what we saw when we went to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden last week. I remember that when I was about to go into one of the rooms, the lady at the museum told me to “enjoy your show” and “you can take as many pictures as you want in the room”. When I was in the lines, I saw people sharing selfies they had taken in the rooms with their friends or families. It seems that everyone who went to the show has selfies in their digital devices. However, because of the time limit, a lot of people failed to get an ideal photo within 20 seconds and I saw several people waiting in line multiple times to have another try. Or maybe they just wanted to experience the show for another time. Kusama probably did not think that her mirrored rooms would be “the selfie-happy installation” (Frank).

Kusama’s exhibition invites viewers as participants to enter an immersive environment, where they will have the opportunity to experience Kusama’s unique perspective. Taking pictures, for example, selfies, can be seen as a way of participating and self-performing in the exhibition. But selfies are never entirely about selves, they are performances showing different tastes, lifestyles, and wishes on social media platforms targeting nodes in their social networks. People wish to share their sense of humor, interesting adventures, and beauty within these social networks. For those who witness the performance, their decision of going to the same art event and taking selfies during the exhibition is likely to be influenced by other’s self-performance. One evidence for this argument is the popularity of articles teaching people to pre-setup the cameras before entering the room and finding the best angle for selfies. This idea is similar with Kusama’s artistic aims. In the 1960s, Kusama once told an interviewer that “We become part of the unity of our environments” (Frank). We too, become part of the environment when we are standing at the same spot and taking selfies from the same angle.

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Selfie of Katy Perry

Adele has extended the room to a new performance experience, combining one of her songs with the subsequent music video recorded in the room on the stage at the Brit Awards. She explained that the idea of seeing different angles of oneself in the mirrored room falls into line with her song “When We Were Young”, and she likes seeing things in herself and noticing things she has never seen before.

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For the performance of “When We Were Young” at the Brit Awards, Adele sang in front of an elaborate set of panels displaying twinkling footage shot in Yayoi Kusama’s highly photographed Infinity Mirrored Room

The fact that both celebrities and everyday people take selfies in these exhibits reinforces the fact that they can inspire anyone. Walking into these rooms encourages you to open your mind and just experience the moment. But they also encourage you to capture the moment. As stated before, selfies abound in Kusama’s mirrored rooms. Figuring out how to parcel your time in these rooms can be a challenge? Do you just walk in and snap as many photos as you can? Do you record your experience in the rooms? Do you refrain from photos all together? This thought process is now part of the Kusama experience, one that I think is pretty unique. Instead of scorning selfies as part of some self-obsessed culture, these exhibits encourage selfies as part of the performance. Everything you do in a Kusama room is part of the performance because you cannot escape yourself. Your reflection is infinite.kusama-selfie

(Left: Here, the selfie is not the main focus of the picture, but it is still an important part! You cannot see MC at all, but you can see her phone there, in the center of it all. How different is this installation without the image of the phone in the middle? The phone becomes part of the art, itself…)

Kusama is engaged in a never-ending mission to release the microcosms within herself to the outside, in order to project it on the macrocosms and the infinite space to which our imaginations do not extend. By facing up to this endless mission, Kusama herself is also elevated to the status of eternal being, who is a speck of dust in the universe. She has a bird’s-eye view of the entire universe. It is her infinite consciousness that transcends the time, generation, gender, region and culture, as well as the various vocabularies of contemporary art. It is also the reason Yayoi Kusama is so well-received around the world — and the reason why the force driving her is like an eternally bubbling spring.

Yayoi Kusama Herself is an Artform

Kusama is an Japanese artist that can be attributed to many different terms from the 1950s to 1960s, including “pop art”, “minimalism”, “conceptualism” and “abstract impressionism”. Through her exhibition “Infinity Mirrors” in the Hirshhorn Museum, I not only understood her works as a fixture of these various artistic style, but also felt the strong emotions and ideas about love and fear, life and death from Kusama. Kusama’s art world is so unique that it makes me recognize her paintings, sculpture, videos, and infinity rooms as different extensions of her body and minds. In a word, Kusama herself is an art. In her own words, “My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings. (Kennicott, 2017).

Kusama applied different artistic medium to create conversations with the audience. Curator presented many Kusama’s photos, videos, personal items to the audience which made a strong connection between the artist and her artworks. This representation is totally different from the Toulouse Lautrec Collection we have visited before which focused more on the artworks themselves rather than the image and description of the artist. The design of Kusama’s exhibition enhanced the sense of immersion.

For example, the “Violet Obsession”—sewn and stuffed fabric over row boat and oars which is surrounded by violet light and repetitive picture of the artwork on the walls, floor and ceiling, referring to Kusama’s wry commentary on the phallus as a symbol of virility and power. I was impressed by the work’s occupation or possession and felt that Kusama transcend her fear through art. Highlighting the identity of Kusama allowed the audience associate the artwork with artist’s life experience in a easier way. Besides, objects on the boat “seem to have been overtaken by a horde of alien creatures. They announce their independence from human use while exuding a visual and tactile magnetism” (Smith, 2017). In my opinion, I found the work resonates with some ideas from pop art that “the pop artists strove for ‘objectivity’ embodied by an imagery of objects. The impact of Pop Art was enhanced by the mundane character of the objects selected” (Laurie, 2011). Phallus and boat, these two objects seemed to have no connection with each other. However, Kusama combined them together like the pop artists did in collages. She endowed the objects with new and deep meaning which represented her spiritual world.

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Yayoi Kusama, Violet Obsession (Photo by Ai-Ling Wu)

Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field showed the dialogues between Kusama and the audience. Kusama later recalled how she had imagined people “wandering into this infinite wonderland, where a grandiose aggregation of human sexual symbols had been transformed into a humorous, polka-dotted field” (Applin, 2012). I was impressed by her magic of mise en abyme and repetition which allowed me feel this sense of humor in a more immersive way. Kusama’s soft sculpture and infinity mirror rooms also reminded me of the quotes from the Minimalist artist Robert Morris “Every external relationship, whether it be set up by a structural division, a rich surface, or what have you, reduces the public, external quality of die object and tends to eliminate the viewer to the degree that these details pull him or her into an intimate relationship with the work and out of the space in which the object exists” (Terry, 2011). However, the technology seemed to become noise between the conversation between the audience and Kusama. During the period of “20-second infinity”, nearly 15 seconds were spent on taking photos by me. In fact, I devoted more time on watching two-dimensional picture rather than the three-dimensional installation. The conflict between the technology and art facilitated me to think that is it more appealing for the audience to share pictures of art with other people through screens than to feel the art with their soul through five senses in modern days? How technology affect the interface between the audience and art has become a critical question for curators and artists.

Discussion of Group Project

Our group project will compare Japanese pop art with anime and manga art. This comparison does not imply one is better or worse than the other, just that there is a difference. Different forms of art have varying levels of cultural capital. What makes something fine art? What makes something commercial art? We argue that it is the reception community that defines what art is. It is not so much the art itself, but who is consuming it. Anime fans and pop art collectors will both pay handsomely for different types of art. We will explore how these fans and collectors assign meaning to different works.

Currently, we are in the process of collecting links, references, and visual images for our project. We want to have around 6 image, 3 related to pop art and 3 to anime and manga art. We will display these images in a way that prompts the audience to answer the question, can you tell which genre each of these paintings belongs to? Pop art or anime/manga art? What even is pop art and anime/manga art? We will explain these terms to the audience and guide them through the process of looking at the communities that consume this art rather than at the art itself. Our conclusion will most likely be, art is whatever the art world says it is. Anime and manga does not need to aspire to be like Japanese pop art or prove itself. These two art genres have their own merit and make their own meaning. The issue of price, however, and which genre generates more revenue, is another issue… but it is almost impossible to compare these two genres since they are so different. Still, we are going to try!

(Note the similarity in pose and aesthetic here, but one is pop art and the other is a commercial anime figurine)

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(Left: Chiho Aoshima- Pop Artist/ Installation View / musee art contemporain lyon, 2006 “Rinko-chan on the building” 2005, Right: Holo Figure from the anime Spice and Wolf)

Citations:

Chiland, Elijah. “Watch Adele Perform Inside LA’s Most Instagrammable Room”. 2016. Retrieved from http://la.curbed.com/2016/3/1/11144922/adele-broad-museum-infinity-room-brit-awards.

Frank, Priscilla. “Selfie Obliteration: How Yayoi Kusama Invented The Photo-Friendly Art Show”. The Huffington Post. 2015. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/yayoi-kusama-selfies_us_562687ede4b08589ef493823.

Celebrity photos from Instagram

Chiho Aoshima pictures from Pintrest

Interview of Adele’s choice of infinity mirrored room: Adele on Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room at The Broad museum

Jo Applin, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field. London; Cambridge, MA: Afterall Books, 2012.

“Kaikai Kiki Gallery” http://en.gallery-kaikaikiki.com/2010/07/works_chiho_aoshima/

Laurie Schneider Adams, A History of Western Art. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.

Philip Kennicott, An exhibition of the beloved Kusama with everything but Kusama herself, The Washington Post, 2017

Roberta Smith, Into the Land of Polka Dots and Mirrors, With Yayoi Kusama, 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/arts/design/yayoi-kusama-infinity-mirrors.html?_r=0

Terry Smith,  Contemporary Art: World Currents. New York, NY: Prentice Hall, 2011.