Even as a Seattle Art Museum member it took me a few months to secure tickets for the Yayoi Kusama, Infinite Mirrors exhibit. It was the talk of many dinner parties I had attended this summer. Did you get tickets? Have you gone yet? friends would ask.
The hype was palpable.
These tickets were so difficult to come by for at the artist’s request, only a certain number of patrons could enter the gallery at a time. At each art piece only 2-4 patrons could enter the piece at a time in 20 second increments. Even with the restrictions, long lines formed at each station of this process. There was a long line to get into the museum. A long line to enter a room. A long line to enter an art piece. As a result, the normally tranquil encounter of attending a museum was transformed into a raucous experience. During the long lines patrons would entertain themselves by engaging in loud conversations. Patrons were pressed against each other in line as docents loudly repeated instructions.
Keep moving forward to make the line shorter!
Remove all personal belongings before entering the exhibit
Do not touch anything with any part of your body
You will have 20 seconds inside the exhibit
I am certain other patrons had a fabulous time but this environment had another effect on me. I thought about how all this control was meant to have us experience the world as she does. I became hypersensitive to the overstimulation in the room, in the world.
Yayoi Kusama has struggled with mental illness since she was quite young. She refused to take medicine as she would “become a stone”. Instead she copes with her illness by creating. One dot at a time, methodically, obsessively. Each dot focuses her for that moment and frankly, keeps her alive, for one more moment, quieting the voices in her head, the hallucinations.
This control, over her art and even how we experience it, influenced how I saw it. I had viewed her work online, it had appeared whimsical, cheerful, but experiencing it in person, with the parameters given me, it felt frantic, desperate. I was amazed others could have conversations that didn’t relate to the artwork for I felt the experience itself to be consuming.
Yet even in this controlled atmosphere, you cannot help but have the utmost respect for the artist. She has found a way to cope with mental illness. One dot at a time she not only copes, but thrives.