Sunday, 29 July 2012

Yayoi Kusama - Kusama's Self Obliteration

Yayoi Kusama (草間 彌生 or 草間 弥生 Kusama Yayoi, born March 22, 1929) is a Japanese artist and writer. Throughout her career she has worked in a wide variety of mediums, including painting, collage, sculpture, performance art and environmental installations, most of which exhibit her thematic interest in psychedelic colors, repetition and pattern. 

Watching "Kusama's Self-Obliteration" may seem like a trial to many movie audiences, unaccustomed to the obsessive and obscure nature of experimental film. Still "Self-Obliteration" ends up being a fascinating time capsule from a time when society was bursting with creativity and revolution, and one woman from Japan came to define its ethos and aesthetics.

Only the film Kusama's Self-Obliteration can today still give an idea of the energy and radicality with which Yayoi Kusama provoked the New York art world of the late 1960s with her performances. The film documents the legendary 'nude happenings' of these years, and has been shown at numerous international film festivals and awarded several prizes. 

At this stage in her career, Yayoi Kusama was living in New York and struggling to make a living. America at this time was undergoing a cultural shift, after Civil Rights and Vietnam protests lead to the rise of hippie culture, and Kusama embraced this by creating a series of ‘happenings’, starting with audio-visual-light performances where she painted models in bikinis with fluorescent paints under black lights. Self-Obliteration was made using footage from some of these happenings.

Kusama herself stars in the 24 minute film, which starts with her in rural upstate New York, covering animals, plants and a naked male body with polka dots, and goes on to show body-painting happenings in the artist’s installation environments.

It was so popular in arthouse film circles that Kusama organised repeated screenings and set up a company to sell prints from the film by mail order.

Hippy art of the highest order, less a movie than a chunk of the social moment, the Yalkut opus is heavy on zooms and multiple superimpositions. Accompanied for most of its 24 minutes by Group Image’s endless wah-wah drone, it begins fairly sedately somewhere in Woodstock with deadpan Kusama al fresco, embellishing lily pads and decorating a horse, and builds up to an orgiastic frenzy in a crowded underground dive, possibly the East Village venue known as Tambellini’s Black Gate. With the artist and her associates using the crowd as their canvas, ecstatic free-form solo dancing by paint-caked tranced-out celebrants gives way to tantric groping and random dry (as well as not so dry) humping.

YK: So many ideas were coming forth one after another in my mind that sometimes I had trouble knowing what to do with them. In addition to making painting, sculpture and avant-garde fashion, I made a film called Kusama’s Self-Obliteration. I starred in, directed and produced it, and Jud Yalkut filmed one of my Happenings in Woodstock. I think I staged about two hundred Happenings all over the place.
Grady Turner: What is the meaning of “self-obliteration?”
YK: By obliterating one’s individual self, one returns to the infinite universe. 

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