Obliterated Souls and the Merits of Just Being There

About a month or two ago, a friend of mine posted that she was having difficulty getting tickets to a Kusma exhibit.

Kusama? The mirror lady? Oh wait, what?

I became familiar with Kusama’s works through Tumblr, as many folks my age do, and was really enamored with the concept of her infinity rooms.

So apparently, the Smithsonian’s Hirshorn museum was hosting Yayoi Kusama, and tickets were selling out like the dickens.

I told Alesha, “We’re going, we gotta get tickets, be ready at 12pm on Monday to click our way to happiness and awesome selfies.”

For weeks, we attempted in vain. These tickets (which were free by the way) would be “sold out” within minutes of becoming available. Actually, I’m not completely sure if it took minutes, probably seconds? I’d click on a page to get a ticket and it’d say it would be sold out moments later after the page loaded. I’d be at work, waiting on the clock to strike 12, and suddenly a coworker would come over to my desk for help on tying shoes or something, and I’d come back to my desk at 12:03 with every single day the next week sold out. Needless to say, I didn’t have much hope.

One day, while waiting for the clock to strike 12, a coworker comes by to entertain me in conversation. I cry a little inside as we exchange office niceties, and my phone keeps going off. It rings so frequently it becomes a distraction, so I pick it up to move it when I see

So I guess you can say we were going.

Alesha and I trudge on o’er to the Hirshorn in the rain, completely destroying my twist out, to get into the exhibit. We’re let in by the time on our tickets. For crowd control purposes, we’re only allowed in a room 20 seconds at a time. “So get your selfies fast,” says the museum guide.

She wasn’t lying.

With only 20 seconds at a time in an infinity room, you have maybe five seconds to fumble around with your camera before you can take a shot. I didn’t do too well a Phalli’s Field, as you can see in these photos. But let’s backtrack for a bit.

Yayoi Kusama, the artist of the hour, is a Japanese sculpter, painter, performance artist, and writer, among other things. While waiting in line to an infinity room, Alesha and I take it upon ourselves to do a bit of research. The Hirshorn’s exhibit displayed some factoids and details about her life and work, but not enough for context, I don’t think. Long story short, Kusama had a difficult childhood, witnessing her family’s financial burdens and how they dampened her creative pursuits, stitching parachutes for soldiers in World War II, and also being forced to act as a spy for her mother on her father’s infedelities. These experiences, combined with vivid hallucinations she began to experience, are what resulted in the art we were witnessing that day: polka dots everywhere, flashes of light in the infinity rooms, and sewn fabric penises everywhere (like in the Phalli’s Field shots…get it? A phallus?)

When it came to blogging that day, I didn’t want to. For one, you’ve seen my photos, and two, can I capture what I was witnessing? Can I capture the anxiety I felt looking at Kusama’s net paintings? Getting lost in a maze of sculpted arcs and textured paths, feeling like I’m being suffocated by a spider’s silk while also feeling the burden of structure and freedom of movement?

Yayoi Kusama, INFINITY NETS [MAE], 2013
Short answer, no. Long answer, I’m gonna try.

Kusama has revealed that her thought process behind her infinity rooms was one, efficiency (she sewed each phallus in Phalli’s field, then said, “Screw this, I’ve only done 40? It’s been two days? I’ll just use mirrors to make it seem like I sewed a ton of them!”); two, the perception (then you walk into Phalli’s Field and say, “THERE ARE POLKA DOT PENISES EVERYWHERE!!!”); and three, the effect. You walk into an infinity room, it’s small on the outside, and you have very little room to walk and turn, but once they close the mirrored door behind you, you truly are part of the art. I can try to capture it, to make that moment I was art immortal, but part of me really wanted to sit there and gawk with my mouth open around all the lights and dots and stuffed polka-dotted penises.

This room is called, “The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away,” and is by far the most impressive. It is bright and the lights flicker somewhat hypnotically.


This was a room I let myself gawk over for a while, I only have one photo from it, and the room doesn’t make itself conducive to photos anyway. It’s called, “Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity.” The lights in this room shine brightly and then abruptly go dark. Slowly but surely, they arise again from dim to bright to start the cycle all over again. If you wanna get Sci-Fi with me, you can visit the short story by Isaac Asimov, “The Last Question.” This mirror room is like that story actualized.


Oh and the pumpkins! Kusama’s latest mirror room was full of stylized pumpkins, including one giant one in the Hirshorn garden. The room made me think less of pumpkins and more of slowly creeping glow-in-the-dark slugs. Also, someone had broken one of the pumpkins, so in an excess of caution, no photography was allowed, and we were accompanied into the room by a security guard. I won’t say it ruined the room, but it made things a bit awkward.

Love Transformed into Dots, a collection of a mirror room for walking into and a mirror room through which to peer into, like so:

You can see my phone on the opposite side of this mirror.

Last room was the Obliteration Room. Kusama saw her hallucinations everywhere, all the time, and thus, this was an attempt to create what she saw in real life. Upon entering you are told that you cannot go back into the exhibit, and then handed a sheet of dot stickers to decorate the room (or yourself) with.










It was wonderful. Kusma’s color scheme with dots has been pretty monochrome, but the obliteration room was like a wonderland of color. Kusama used the word “obliterated,” to describe how she felt while having her hallucinations. Her oneness was destroyed and she became one with the dots around her. The Obliteration room encouraged this by giving you the dots to create the art, or stick a dot on yourself (or just sit down and be covered in them), to fully become one with the art.

I loved this room. It was the perfect cap on an exhibit full of meticulous paintings, disturbing imagery (I don’t know what it is about those sewed phalluses but when Kusama covered items with them, it made me itchy and confused and disturbed), wacky sculptures, and personal representations of the mind. I think everybody should spend a few seconds in Kusama’s mirror rooms, selfie taken or not. See art, be art.

Can’t get enough Kusama? Check her site to see when her exhibit might be near your town. Also, check out some videos of her exhibits since my photos can’t do it justice.





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