Yayoi Kusama at the grand old age of 83 has made a monumental comeback via Louis Vuitton. The simple red and white dots are now the signature pattern of the formidable fashion house but to me provoke thoughts on what their significance is.
Kusama says, “…a polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement… Polka dots are a way to infinity.” Repetition and pattern are signs of needing structure and stability but the dots (little completions or goals attained?) also represent an undisturbed sense of continuity. The strong contrast of red and white are further reminders of Kusama’s need for making a statement, for somehow seeking justice for injustices in the past.
Her most significant object is the huge, yellow pumpkin sculpture covered with an optical pattern of black spots. The pumpkin came to represent for her a kind of alter-ego or self-portrait.
She states that the polka dots or “infinity nets,” as she called them, were taken directly from her hallucinations. As a young child she says she was abused by her mother and later on, recording her time of studying Nihonga painting in Kyoto in 1948, made her ‘want to vomit’. Finding the Japanese way of studying painting a little too conventional she travelled to France and New York, becoming interested in the European and American avant-garde. In the early 1960s, she became associated with the pop art movement and was a great influence on Andy Warhol.
When she returned to Japan in 1973 she admits that she was mentally unstable, stating ‘If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago’. Well her hallucinations served her well and she is certainly alive and kicking today. The Roppongi Art Night held at the end of March this year (very close to her birthday) proved that in her final years her self-reflections had transferred to the wellbeing of those afflicted by the earthquake in March 2011.
Ironically I think that despite her need to get away from Japanese conventionality, this is the very thing that is stamped onto her work. The red dot – symbol of Japan, the continuous pattern – order and symmetry reflective of Japanese society and the globular object – the Japanese love of harmonious and curvaceous shape are the great symbols of Japan. She is unique and everlasting just like the circle of life.