Arts art exhibit review

Beautiful footprints

Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Love is Calling’ attempts to immerse viewers

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Yayoi Kusama's 'Love is Calling' arrives at the ICA in September to bring an immersive, kaleidoscopic environment.
Courtesy of ICA Boston

Love is Calling 
Yayoi Kusama
The Institute of Contemporary Art
On display until Feb. 28, 2021

“Hoping to leave beautiful footprints at the end of my life / I spend each day praying that my wish will be fulfilled.” This line comes from Yayoi Kusama's poem “Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears.” The poem accompanies her installation at the ICA, “Love is Calling.” 

With “Love is Calling,” Yayoi stamps another beautiful footprint into the sandy beach of her oeuvre. The exhibit is a piece of environmental art that attempts to immerse viewers, who enter a room that contains only three things: spotless mirrors on every surface, tentacle-like sculptures that dance with neon gradients, and themselves. The viewer’s place in the installation is especially emphasized to prompt introspection, although this detracts from the piece’s immersive capabilities.

Upon entry, “Love is Calling” breaks expectations. The pulsing sculptures are even more vibrant in person than in video. The murky reflective material on the floor and ceiling gives the sense that a pristine world laden with effulgent stalagmites and stalactites lies just beyond the room. At the same time, the synthy lo-fi beats that one might assume to be concomitant with such minimalist, psychedelic figures are nowhere to be found. In their place is the poised voice of Yayoi Kusama reciting “Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears” in Japanese against the whir of air pumps that presumably breath life into the tentacle sculptures.

Despite the installation's breathtaking beauty, it is not as immersive as one might predict. Surrounded by brilliant lights and immaculate mirrors that stretch off into infinity, it becomes impossible to escape your own presence. Your dully-toned human body stands stark amongst Yayoi’s forest of fireworks. As a result, it remains tough to imagine experiencing any profound, extrasensory episodes that might otherwise accompany some other environmental installation.

Although you won't have any life-changing visions, it would be disingenuous to say that “Love is Calling” fails to encourage introspection. While the mirrors don't immerse you in Yayoi’s astral jungle, they direct your attention back onto yourself, as mirrors do. Because of how much you stand out in the installation, you may begin to question what your place is in this art exhibit — why you belong there — and from that first question, run through a slew of existential interrogations about nature, art, and life. Why do humans make art? Why did a human make this specific piece of art? Does this art exhibit truly exist? Do I truly exist? How has this art been incorporated into my life now that I have seen it? Questions like these are hefty, but they are forced upon you with utter abandon. 

A joint exhibit is shown alongside “Love is Calling,” entitled “Beyond Infinity: Contemporary Art after Kusama.” The exhibit places several of Yayoi's works next to pieces by artists that she inspired and was inspired by: Louise Bourgeois, Nick Cave, Ana Mendieta, and Eva Hesse are a few of the biggest names present. Together, the artworks reveal a shared trait of indulgent, almost fractal, minimalism among Yayoi and her contemporaries. They also offer a welcome refuge after exiting the disorienting space of “Love is Calling,” although perhaps a bittersweet one.