Stepping Into Polka Dotted Infinity

How Yayoi Kusama’s Work Influences the Senses

Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist, born in 1929 in the city of Masumoto of the prefecture Nagano. One of the most prominent names in abstract expressionism, she stands alongside Alex Katz as one of the last living pioneers of pop art and is most famous for her colorful and bizarre paintings, her oversized polka dotted pumpkins, and of course, her exceptionally visceral and mind-bending installations. Because museums across the country are currently shut down, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on my experience of stepping into one of her installations in Pittsburgh a couple years ago at the Mattress Factory.

For those that don’t know, The Mattress Factory is converted mattress warehouse at 500 Sampsonia Way in Pittsburgh’s Central Northside. It was started in 1975 as a community run and owned space to exhibit installation art for local artists-in-residence and is now operating as an autonomous non-profit museum.

Of the fantastic installation rooms adorning every floor and hallway of the factory, none felt more impactful to me than Kusama’s 1996 installation, Infinity Dots Mirrored Room. Upon entering the space, you’ll notice that it’s entirely encased in mirrors with the only non-reflective surface being a fluorescently lit floor covered in polka dots that are reminiscent of the colors and lights you would experience during “cosmic bowling.”

The room creates an immediate sense of infinity as you stare alternate versions of yourself that stretch out as far as your eye can see, all whilst being decorated by blacklight illumination and neon-colored dots. What’s so fascinating about Kusama’s work, this particular piece being no exception, is that it is typically driven by the condition of her mental health, inspiring outlandish sculptures and entire worlds created in single rooms. In fact, her artists statement for Infinity Dots Mirrored Room depicts an experience where she began to notice the design from a rose-patterned tablecloth spreading across the room to various surfaces and pillars. According to her, this was not a vision, but a true reality she experienced, similar to the eternal and infinite reality a viewer would feel under the polka dots in Mirrored Room. Yayoi Kusama has become a permanent resident at Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill in Shinjuku, Tokyo where she lives voluntarily, producing work at her studio that is only a short distance away.

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Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Dots Mirrored Room, 1996

Infinity Dots Mirrored Room took me to a place beyond the world I’ve grown accustomed to, transporting me to an altered state where I was less “human” and more “being.” It gives us a bite-sized chunk of the cosmic energy and material that we are made of and caters to an experience that sits just on the edge of human consciousness. The spectacular aspect of this installation is that it fully captured my senses, the same senses that are typically feeding me all information that end up carving out swaths of complacency in my life. Art, in its truest and most exciting form, always seems to move me farther and farther away from that. Whether or not you care to observe the finer details of a Renoir, or take time to research the historical context of Boticelli’s Birth of Venus, one thing is for certain; the breath will leave just about anyone’s lungs who steps into this room.

Learn more about the Mattress Factory

Learn more about the Infinity Room

Learn more about Kusama here and her official website is here

Featured Image taken from Unit London (check them out they’re doing great work)

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