By Mitchell Jordan
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Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has been busy making her way around Scandinavia, with her trademark polka dots adding even more colour to Helsinki.

Two temporary exhibitions, Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees in Esplanadi park and a thousand mirror-surfaced steel spheres, Narcissus Garden in the Winter Garden were both completed in time for Helsinki Day, 12 June by Mayor Jussi Pajunen and will be on show until 9 October. Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees has previously been on show in London, Singapore and Moscow.

“These works have been inspired by beautiful nature and people, and they create communication between nature and living beings,” said Yayoi Kusama.

“The shining city of Helsinki, as well as the life we wish for becomes even more beautiful.”

Narcissus Garden.

Narcissus Garden. (Photo: HAM / Maija Toivanen)

Like most good things, Yayoi Kusama comes in threes. Following a run at Louisiana in Denmark last year and later in Oslo, her current exhibition, In Infinity has been slowly making its way through the neighbouring Nordic countries. Currently on show at Moderna Museet, Stockholm until September, the show opens at Helsinki Art Museum in October.

So, what can visitors expect to see? Pumpkins and polka dots is the short answer. Both are recurrent themes in Kusama’s work which, on the surface, might be seen as a reversion to childhood if it weren’t for the fact that Kusama, like many Japanese and artists, had an unhappy childhood marred indelibly by an abusive mother and an absent father.

On one hand, she embodies the quirkiness that swims in the depths of Japanese culture and yet her art made her even more an outcast to the point that she has lived in a psychiatric ward since the seventies.

“For an art like mine – art that does battle at the border of life and death, questioning what we are and what it means to live and die – Japan was too small, too servile, too feudalistic, and too scornful of women,” she said.

“My art needed a more unlimited freedom, and a wider world.”

Nobody could argue that Kusama has failed at creating wider worlds. More surreal and playful than Lewis Carroll, each room of In Infinity offers rabbit holes of escape: mirrors distort and explode with endless possibilities. In another, viewers are asked to decorate a white room filled with a piano and the objects of everyday with coloured stickers but it is an entire room filled with blow-up red and white polka dot balls and mirrors that enchants the audience most.

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama with Pumpkin at Aichi Triennale 2010. (© Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/ Singapore; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; David Zwirner, New York, © Yayoi Kusama)

About the Author

The boy with the thorn in his side. Still looking for the light that never goes out.

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