Yayoi Kusama: You, Me and the Balloons

words Danny Lamb

‘My art originates from hallucinations only I can see.’

Yayoi Kusama is one of the world’s most successful living artists. She has been a pioneer of conceptual, surrealist and feminist art for over 50 years. With her latest installation, You, Me and the Balloons, Kusama has created a strange and sensory experience incorporating many of the themes and motifs which have recurred throughout her artistic endeavours since the very beginning.

Yayoi Kusama mcr Balloons

Upon stepping foot within Yayoi Kusama’s immersive inflatable world, one is immediately struck with a sense of cosmic wonder. There is a sense that Kusama is transforming the micro into the macro. Strange root-like appendages sprout from the floor, bringing to mind ideas of interconnectivity. Of neural pathways firing electrical impulses towards a central nervous system, or the hidden network of roots which communicate with each other deep beneath the earth. The result is a space which feels paradoxically both artificial and natural. There is a sense that one has truly entered into a hallucinatory fantasy world full of psychedelia; a polka dot Wonderland of mysteries.

The Lewis Carrol motif continues as you find yourself staring up at a little girl who has been blown up (literally) into a giant effigy of an idealised childhood. Think Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds rendered in balloon form. A child’s self portrait skipping off the page.

Yayoi Kusama You, Me and the Balloons

Kusama’s art feels worthy of a showcase in this manner, as the way space is utilised within the exhibition feels integral to the work itself. Kusama plays with space, with geography and geometry, bending reality, reshaping and resizing it, reflecting it and encouraging us to reflect upon it. There is the literal use of mirrors to make the space feel larger than it is, but also the layout and the mirroring of colours, all of which add layers to the world she is attempting to immerse us in. As one drifts from section to section, the otherworldliness re-doubles.

Since she was very young Kusama has been prone to hallucinations, whether it was dogs or pumpkins talking to her, or recurring patterns of polka dots covering her surroundings, these hallucinatory visions form the central thematic backbone of her art works and are in full display within this particular exhibition. She has dubbed polka dots as ‘infinity nets’ and believes them to be a unifying motif which connects individual pieces – artworks, people, ideas – to a larger whole.

Yayoi Kusama factory

‘Polka dots are a way to infinity. When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environment.’

In this way, You, Me and the Balloons is a cumulation of Kusama’s entire career – a collection of separate works, interconnected and unified together, which bring us fully into Kusama’s world and asks us to look at things from a new angle. It is a space in which to contemplate. To meditate. To drift like a balloon on the breeze.

Yayoi Kusama: You, Me and the Balloons is at Aviva Studios, Manchester until 28 August 2023.

For more info visit: https://factoryinternational.org/whats-on/yayoi-kusama-you-me-and-the-balloons/

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