Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field (AFTERALL)
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Almost a half-century after Yayoi Kusama debuted her landmark installation Infinity Mirror Room--Phalli's Field (1965) in New York, the work remains challenging and unclassifiable. Shifting between the Pop-like and the Surreal, the Minimal and the metaphorical, the figurative and the abstract, the psychotic and the erotic, with references to "free love" and psychedelia, it seemed to embody all that the 1960s was about, while at the same time denying the prevailing aesthetics of its time. The installation itself was a room lined with mirrored panels and carpeted with several hundred brightly polka-dotted soft fabric protrusions into which the visitor was completely absorbed. Kusama simply called it "a sublime, miraculous field of phalluses." A precursor of performance-based feminist art practice, media pranksterism, and "Occupy" movements, Kusama (born in 1929) was once as well known as her admirers--Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, and Joseph Cornell. In this first monograph on an epoch-defining work, Jo Applin looks at the installation in detail and places it in the context of subsequent art practice and theory as well as Kusama's own (as she called it) "obsessional art." Applin also discusses Kusama's relationship to her contemporaries, particularly those working with environments, abstract-erotic sculpture, and mirrors, and those grappling with such issues as abstraction, eroticism, sexuality, and softness. The work of Lee Lozano, Claes Oldenburg, Louise Bourgeois, and Eva Hesse is seen anew when considered in relation to Yayoi Kusama's.
words, ‘become one’. The endless repetition of visitors’ bodies cast each as an object among many others — as animate, bodily counterparts to their inanimate spotty doubles. ‘Soft sculpture is alive’, Kusama announced in 1969, drawing attention to these anthropomorphic qualities.7 One black-andwhite photograph taken during the opening of the exhibition depicts a small dog sitting calmly in the soft field (fig.5). The animal is hard to see in the photograph, as its spotty fur coat is camouflaged
metal, wood and water, 442.4 × 442.4 × 320cm Inﬁnity Mirror Room — Phalli’s Field | 61 of sexuality and eroticism as a way of breaking out of the repressive societal constraints subjects experienced themselves as working and living under.93 In the passage from representing Infinity Mirror Room — Phalli’s Field as a private interior world to her promotion of group occupations in the later happenings, an interesting shift occurred that brings to mind the idea of the collective. This shift might
participation under pressure (fig.15). The Gutai group, which included Jiro Yoshihara, Akira Kanayama, Saburo Murakami, Kazuo Shiraga and Shozo Shimamoto, first emerged in Japan in 1954, determined to break free from the stranglehold of European modernism through an expansion of art’s boundaries beyond the canvas and into the surrounding environment. This avant-garde movement offered a radical break with previous Japanese art practice, such as the traditional form of Nihonga painting that Kusama
background of fabric bulges, with which they would, in Kusama’s words, ‘become one’. The endless repetition of visitors’ bodies cast each as an object among many others — as animate, bodily counterparts to their inanimate spotty doubles. ‘Soft sculpture is alive’, Kusama announced in 1969, drawing attention to these anthropomorphic qualities.7 One black-andwhite photograph taken during the opening of the exhibition depicts a small dog sitting calmly in the soft field (fig.5). The animal is hard
(fig.10). In 1964 Kusama began to exhibit the studded domestic items in a series of dizzying and crammed domestic tableaux, under the title Driving Image. By colonising the space and surface of the room with clusters of phallic tubers, Kusama was able to continue the lateral spread of the phallic carpet from the overstuffed interior of Infinity Mirror Room — Phalli’s Field, producing an installation that offered precisely that mix of playful chaos and psychosexual drama that was becoming a