Thursday, November 17, 2011

Paris Journal: Kusama

Self-obliteration is one of the themes of the Yayoi Kusama exhibit at the Pompidou. But the expression should not be confused spiritual notions which have to do with the diminishing of the ego. Quite the contrary, the exhibitionism that pervades the psychosexual odyssey that the show describes is a response to the artist’s fear of the loss of self.  Kusama, a Japanese born, abstractionist was also known for her performance art pieces involving estheticized forms of streaking. The curious thing about seeing many of the videos of Kusama exposing herself and participating in body art happenings from the 60's, is that they, in fact, don’t seem dated at all. There is a whole psychedelic and hallucinogenic aspect to Kusama’s polka dot paintings and installations with their obsessive  and repetitive style that partakes of what neurologists call perseveration. And seen in historiographical context of her life or what the German sociologist Max Weber termed Beruf or calling, they are dramatic distillations of the central conflict of her existence which is reminiscent of Camus’ famous statement that the only meaningful philosophical question was suicide. Pathography is plainly not the intent of the current exhibit, but it’s hard not to see the artist’s repressive upbringing and her early awakening to Japan’s nuclear tragedy as driving forces in both her work and the mental illness that has plagued her all her life. Happily or unhappily Kusama eventually ended up committing herself and now in her 80’s still continues to produce work at the Tokyo institution in which she lives.

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