Thanks to Madman Films for the chance to see Kusama: Infinity before its Australian release. This is our review of the movie, but as usual, no matter what we say, we still recommend you to go see it at your local cinema because there is no better critic than yourself!
Currently the most successful living female artist, Yayoi Kusama’s unconventional life is conventionally documented by first-time director, Heather Lenz. Lenz teams with co-writer Keita Ideno to give a fascinating – and often tragic – insight into the creative life of this flamboyant 89 year old. Even if unfamiliar with Yayoi (or the modern art world, for that matter) Kusama: Infinity is a biopic that is both visually lush and speaks to all. Especially society’s underdogs or those on the periphery. Kusama’s upper middle-class family’s expectations foresaw her as refined, married and with children. As a deal with her mother, Yayoi agreed to take an etiquette course, if she could also pursue her passion in art classes. Ever-defiant, the fomer classes were never taken, but the latter were, much to Kusama’s mother’s anger. Yayoi also never married nor raised a family.
There are many references throughout the documentary to childhood physical and psychological abuse and Kusama’s obsessive compulsive neuroses were later evaluated by a Freudian analyst. Mental health is often mentioned: feelings of repulsion towards the act of sex; fluctuating states of depression and suicide; a fear of being consumed by objects and patterns or, as Kusama coins the term “self-obliteration”; and intense visual hallucinations. From the age of ten, Kusama claims she saw “dense fields of dots” on many things. A watercolour painting of her mother, at this period, has the kimono and entire body covered in them. Fields of dots have become Kusama’s distinctive trademark, that and her mirror/ infinity rooms. Such installations sometimes have the viewer atop a platform, peering through a space in a wall of the purpose-built room to see neon balls, at differing heights reflected, somewhat endlessly, into a polychromatic and luminous universe. It’s probably no chance that the first mirror/ infinity installation coincided with the early fervent space explorations by America. “I convert the energy of life into dots of the universe”, the artist calmly explains.
Kusama’s forms of media and genres are as vast as the universes she creates: sculpture, drawing, painting, performance, film, poetry and fashion. We see her slowly shuffle to her studio to work, aware of her age and fragility, until she commences churning out, at a prolific rate that she has maintained thoughout her career, Leviathanistic pieces with her usual intensity. And never a single draft. Yayoi then returns to the mental health hospital where she self-admitted. Such is the process she has mainatained for years.
At one point in the film there’s a beautiful montage of stills, capturing a younger Yayoi with long black hair, braided (she’s now more known for the diacritic fuschia pink bob) wearing a traditional floral kimono and holding a delicate parasol. This starkly contrasts with the dark and gritty urbanscape of New York and we are reminded, yet again, of the sense of displacement and alienation this woman and artist must have endured, both in New York and the traditional city of Matsumoto. In the American art world of the 1960s, led by men and critiqued by them, she suffered sexism. As a Japanese legal alien, a definite racial minority. Back home in Matsumoto, scorned and shamed by her family and community for her nudist ‘happenings’, Vietnam War protests and phallic sculptures.
Despite this, Yayoi and Kusami: Infinity provides inspiration to the struggling artist, or depressed soul, as her work transcends and overcomes all the boundaries she’s faced throughout her life. Heather Lenz leads us to a platform and allows us to peer into the space that displays Kusama in her seemingly neverending story. Kusama is the dotted canvas as well as the mirror. We behold infinite possibilities and marvels and, as Shakespeare wrote: The fault is not in our stars…but in ourselves. (Julius Caesar). By looking beyond we are also looking within…
KUSAMA: INFINITY – In cinemas December 26