The Spots of Yayoi Kusama

Context

I went to the Tate Modern for the first time a little while back. I had a mild fever by the time I got home, so I took aspirin, laid down for a bit, then got up and write a story about artists and tentacle monsters*.

The fever wasn’t because I was sick. It was sensory overload. When I walk into a crowded room, it’s like I’ve walked into trippy dayglow land. My reactions range from general distraction, to seeing lights and shapes in front of my eyes. I used to think this happened to everyone, but I came to realise that for most people, a busy room is a plain and stationary affair.

Sensory overloads aren’t always bad. Art is something that sets it off in a good way. I may well see spots and have fever symptoms, but I enjoy visiting galleries. I’m attracted to bright colours, bold shapes and light rooms (where the room in dark, apart from points of light). Modern art has plenty of those.

This time when I visited the Tate Modern, I looked over the paid exhibitions**. I was immediately drawn to Yayoi Kusama’s work, as it it was bright and covered in polkadots. Finding out she had hallucinations***, which led to some of the repeated images, made me even more intrigued. I don’t think she sees things for the same reason as I do (there’s no discussion of sensory overloads in the interviews), and I’ve never felt the things I see were real (they’re translucent, like an overlay on reality), but I was curious to see how it influenced her art.

Infinity

The art is mostly laid out in chronological order. Her early paintings are smaller abstract works, with a focus on colour and patterns. Once she’d moved from Japan to America, the canvas size gets bigger. One room is taken up with ‘infinity nets’ – repeated white circles on large canvases. These wouldn’t translate well as prints, but full-sized on every wall of a room, they have a calming effect. It reminded me of being on the beach on a calm day, as the infinity nets had a similar sensory impact to waves.

She also moved onto sculpture, being known for covering everyday things with items that caused her anxiety. The ones people focus on represent her anxieties about sex, but I noticed the clothing covered in flowers. Sex is not an uncommon anxiety. The objects with pasta on aren’t a surprise from someone risking starvation in a country with plenty. But flowers struck me as a more unusual thing to be anxious about. Some of her interviews mention seeing fields of flowers as an example of an infinite thing – that the flowers go on forever. For me, the fear/wonder that comes with imagining the true scale of things made for a more interesting sculpture. But I guess for most, sex sells more than infinity flowers.

Her later pictures included collages, which have a melancholy feel to them. This shifts slowly into her most recent work – bold acrylic paintings with a cheerful feel (something I’ve seen criticised… but I don’t view happy emotions as less artistically worthy than sad ones).

The highlight of the display were the two room installations (both of which I’d call light rooms). “I’m Here, but Nothing” is a dark room, set up like a room in a house. Fluorescent spots cover everything, lit by a UV lamp. Though you can see the items in the room with the faint light, the glowing spots dominate. From my perspective, it was like an inversion of sensory overloads, where the spots are no longer the overlay. They’re the reality, and the room is the unreal layer.

The second light room was “Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life”. It’s covered in mirrors, with multi-coloured lights hanging down. The lights shift through various colours, creating an endless expanse of lights in the mirrors. Almost like a starscape.

Reflections

Armed with a copy of Alice in Wonderland (illustrated by Yayoi Kusama), I headed home. The family member who came along got a collection of postcard prints (we did the shop before heading in, so also played the game of spot the original in the exhibition). The gnarly mutant polkadot pumpkin cushions were out of my price range, but fun, as only gnarly mutant polkadot pumpkins can be.

It sounds strange to say, but I hadn’t considered why I tend to put spots all over things. My spots are much smaller and not of the polkadot variety – often they’re smallest dot I can make with whatever media I’m using. But they’re there. I suppose because I’ve always been aware that the spots aren’t really there, I didn’t consider why I was making them real in my pictures.

* This story was “Visions of Destruction Series, Mixed Media”. On the first visit, there were a lot of art series on display.

** The Tate Modern itself is free, but the special exhibitions need paid tickets. I recommend booking in advance. The ticket collection queue had about ten people. The ticket purchase queue went all the way to the main door and back again. I was glad we’d booked.

*** One criticism is that Kusama apparently didn’t discuss having hallucinations with friends when she was younger. Some take this to mean she didn’t really have them. But not only is it difficult to discuss seeing things that aren’t there (people don’t exactly take the news well most of the time), it’s not immediately obvious that it isn’t something everyone experiences. We tend to assume we experience the world the same way as everyone else, until proven otherwise. Saying, “Well, of course it’s obvious people don’t see spots, because I don’t,” is proving the point.

# The Tate asks for people not to take photographs in the ticketed exhibits, and to only use photos taken in the other galleries for personal use. I’m honouring that request… however, I have included two pictures taken outside the main galleries. The polkadot beach balls were dangling down outside the Yayoi Kusama display and the colourful perspex is the donation thingy at the main entrance. Pictures from the exhibition itself can be found on the BBC website and more information about Yayoi Kusama is on her website.

Attack Of The Lizard King – Rex Stone (author), Mike Spoor (illustrator)

Attack of the Lizard King CoverSeries: Dinosaur Cove, #1 / Dinosaur Cove Cretaceous, #1
First Published: March, 2008
Genre: Children’s Time Travel / Chapter Book
Available: Amazon.com | Amazon UK

Jamie moves to Dinosaur Cove, where his dad is going to open a dinosaur museum in a lighthouse. While out looking for fossils on the beach, he and his friend Tom find a portal back to the time of the dinosaurs.

This is a fun chapter book, and the first in a series. The boys explore the dinosaur world and have a few close encounters (though nothing too scary). While they’re searching, Jamie has a fossil guide that gives him information on the things they find. The book includes a map at the end showing the path the boys took and a glossary of the new words. Recommended for any dinosaur-lovers who are moving on from picture books.

Above World – Jenn Reese

Above World CoverSeries: Above World, #1
First Published: 14th February, 2012
Genre: Middle Grade Science Fiction / Novel
Available: Amazon.com | Amazon UK

The breathing technology used by the Kampii (mermaids) is failing. The adults won’t do anything, so Aluna and her friend Hoku travel up to the surface to find answers (young Kampii don’t get their mermaid tails until they’re older, so they still have legs). In the above world, there are unaltered humans, bird people and horse people (among others). They’re under attack from the upgraders (cyborgs).

This book is a fun action-adventure. The world is a dystopian spin on old mythology, without being too gritty. The current situation is one that developed from the founding of the various colonies, so as well as travelling the world, they also have to learn about their past. I enjoyed the contrast between the two main characters – Aluna as a warrior and Hoku as a scientist. It was nice to see Aluna having positive relationships with other girls/women, rather than being the one special girl who hated all the other womenfolk (as so many books with warrior girls/women tend to do).

There were some points that made me pause. Though it’s good that being cool mermaids and so forth isn’t a white person only zone, I wish the racial descriptions had been less ambiguous. There’s mention of brown skin, but that leaves a lot to the imagination in the sort of way where people rewrite in their heads to make everyone white (especially when the character isn’t on the cover). It would have been nice to have some mention of other features, such as hair, facial features and remaining pieces of culture.

I wasn’t too comfortable with what was shown of Dash’s people. They seem rather pseudo-Native American, which is potentially problematic when they’re a race of horse people. Or the suggestion that the desert was an uninhabited area free to be colonised by the genetically changed. However, it’s possible both issues are handled in later books, as these things were told second hand rather than seen.

I did enjoy the book despite those concerns and look forward to the sequel.

Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories – JoSelle Vanderhooft (editor)

Steam-Powered CoverSeries: Steam-Powered, #1
First Published: January, 2011
Genre: Steampunk / Short Story Anthology
Authors: Mike Allen; Rachel Manija Brown; Georgina Bruce; Amal El-Mohtar; Sara M. Harvey; Meredith Holmes; N.K. Jemisin; Mikki Kendall; Matthew Kressel; Shira Lipkin; D.L. MacInnes; Shweta Narayan; Tara Sommers; Beth Wodzinski; Teresa Wymore
Available: Amazon.com | Amazon UK

There were a few stories I particularly liked. “To Follow The Waves” by Amal El-Mohtar was one, set in Syria with dream crafting technology. The post-apocalyptic Western “Suffer Water” by Beth Wodzinski was also a fun story. Overall though, a lot of the stories didn’t really hold my attention.

The Kindle edition has no formatting, making it harder to read. If you’re going to buy it, the print edition is probably a better bet.

Music Videos: Created Partners

Created partners are a classic of speculative fiction. Usually a person hurt or disillusioned with relationships creates a new partner. The theme stems from a fantasy of having the perfect romance with the perfect partner. But unlike a romance novel, there’s a whole layer of creepiness in creating a perfect partner. It raises questions about free will and slavery. The reality may not turn out quite the way people were hoping.

‘Coin-Operated Boy’ – The Dresden Dolls

Inserting a coin into the boy

Music Genre: Dark Cabaret

Video Genre: Dark Cabaret

About the Band: The Dresden Dolls consists of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione.

About the Video: The lyrics and video sum up the creepiness of the created partner trope. The coin-operated boy (Brian) is the wish-fulfilment partner who won’t hurt Amanda, but he’s also “just a toy” who doesn’t get a say in anything. It has a stage theme, with exaggerated stage makeup and scenery like a stage set.

(Being coin-operated seems like a hassle to me, as you kept having to unlock his coin compartment to get them out. And he’d rattle. But maybe I’m overthinking this…)

YouTube Links:

Coin-Operated Boy

‘The Girl and the Robot’ – Röyksopp featuring Robyn

Robyn meets the robot

Music Genre: Pop

Video Genre: Science Fiction

About the Band/Singers: Röyksopp is a Norwegian musical duo. Robyn is a singer from Sweden.

About the Video: There’s nothing idealised about this relationship, either in the visuals or the lyrics. Flashbacks to the first meeting show a relationship that started well, but grew cold. The robot is not under Robyn’s command, and decides to spend all day working instead of spending time with her. The images of Robyn at home and the robot at work share visual elements, which pulls it together nicely.

Also unusually for the created partner trope, the robot is not designed to look attractive. He’s your usual blocky humanoid robot.

YouTube Links:

The Girl and the Robot (YouTube) – I believe this is the official one, but it’s region locked and I couldn’t check it.

The Girl and the Robot (Daily Motion)

‘Robot Girlfriend Song’ – Rhett and Link

The advert for the robot girlfriend

Music Genre: Comedy

Video Genre: Geek

About the Band: Rhett and Link are comedy duo Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal.

About the Video: This video pokes fun at the robot girlfriend idea, and the male geeks who dream of such a girlfriend. One day, they’ll realise that dating a female geek is a better solution (even if she doesn’t come with built-in Solitaire and may steal your comic books).

YouTube Links:

Robot Girlfriend Song

‘Busy ‘ – Olly Murs

Rose: Painting her eyes

Music Genre: Pop

Video Genre: Fantasy

About the Singer: Olly Murs is a singer from England.

About the Video: For those who like the romantic (if still creepy) side of created partners, this video has Olly creating a dream girlfriend (Rose) out of papier mache. His life with Rose is shown, in a very 70s world (possibly the only time when vomit yellow was fashionable). They hang out reading books, pretending to go for drives and eating popcorn. This one is speculative, but it takes a little while to get there.

YouTube Links:

Busy