• Celia Madeley

Yayoi Kusama: Obsession

"This was my living, breathing manifesto of Love. Thousands of illuminated colours blinking at the speed of light"


Kusama and 'Macaroni Girl', New York, 1968

From a sea of sculpted penises and a dog coat made from dried macaroni, to ‘an electric monument to love’, Yayoi Kusama’s work captures the broad spectrum of human emotion. Through themes of obsessive practice and repetition, she uses the art of sculpture to confront her childhood fears, whilst revelling in the joy and ecstasy of life in an exhibition of infinite-coloured lights permeating through three-dimensional spaces. Her artwork draws from deep fear and love and is brought to the world for us to see in concrete form.


Her autobiography, Infinity Net, follows the artist’s journey from a conservative upbringing in Matsumoto, Japan, to her landing in the US in 1957 to pursue a career in art. Obsession is a prevalent theme and Kusama describes her obsessive practice as a means in which she must “Create, then Obliterate”. It takes hold in her ‘sex and food images’ but spans across her work. Raised from a repressive background where sex was rarely discussed, she uses sculpture to tackle these irrational fears. Accumulation no.1 is a chair covered in phalluses made from stuffed fabric and paint. It’s part of a large series including Aggregation: One Thousand Boat Show and Sex Obsessional Chair.

Aggregation: One Thousand Boat Show (1963)

In Kusama’s world, macaroni pasta spreads into infinity. At the Richard Castellane Gallery in New York, different objects are covered with dried macaroni and a dog, encased in the stuff, is let loose to run amongst a sea of macaroni walls and floors. Whether sparked by Kusama’s culture shock in the US or a subtle critique of American consumerism, there is no doubting her disgust at the idea of being faced with endless amounts of mass-produced macaroni. It fills her with “fear and revulsion”. The sex and food images that repulsed Kusama are exactly what she was so determined to focus on.


What I admire most about these sculptures is not the fixation on any end-product but the process itself. That’s where the magic is found. She states, "I make them and make them…until I bury myself in the process". It’s a compulsive practice in which entire surfaces and rooms end up being covered with stuffed penises (or dried macaroni), but this method is equally a therapeutic journey of self-exploration. As deeply introspective as it is obsessive. Through the creation of each object, she grows closer to confronting her irrational fears, treating each creative practice as a form of exposure therapy.


Her three-dimensional sculpture, Infinity Mirrored Room-Love Forever is one of the closest ways love can be captured in the material form; an overwhelming and disorientating experience. I spoke to a friend, Shara, who described the opening night of the 2019 exhibition in New York. Circling the mirrored room, notions of space and time are suspended: "It was mind-blowing… we were saying, look at the floor, no wait look at the ceiling!". The artist describes these sculptures as "a living, breathing manifesto" with "thousands of illuminated colours blinking at the speed of light". Mirrors are placed opposite and adjacent to each other, spanning the walls and ceilings to reflect thousands of blinking lights that arrange themselves in a cycle of different shapes and patterns. The popularity of Yayoi Kusama’s works have grown massively, and with the recent exhibition, Infinity Mirror Rooms at the Tate Modern in London selling out rapidly, it is difficult to steal a glance. Infinity Mirrored Room captures the simple message of love despite everything. If we cannot be in London at this moment in time, never mind. One can identify with the beauty in her processes; whether it’s confronting the most personal of fears or experiencing love in all forms, her messages are felt everywhere, electric, and universal.


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