REVIEW: Yayoi Kusama’s Fireflies on the Water

A 9 x 12 x 12 room. The walls and ceiling are mirrors, the ground water. You, the subject, are reflected over and over again against a backdrop of hanging lights: blues, reds, oranges. You are allotted 60 seconds in the room. Yayoi Kusama’s Fireflies on the Water transports you to another reality where it feels like you are at the center of that surreal universe.

Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist. When she was ten years old, Kusama began to experience vivid hallucinations in which she saw bright lights and endless fields of spots, which has heavily influenced her artwork throughout her life. She first became known to the public sphere as an active member of the hippie counterculture movement in the late sixties. She staged several performances, or “happenings,” in which naked participants were covered in polka dots.

I had previously seen another one of Kusama’s installations at The Broad in Los Angeles. The room was structured in a similar fashion, thought the lights were larger and more spherical. Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away had a more blue-green hue, whereas Fireflies on the Water had a warmer tone. Although both rooms are very similar, I found the two experiences to be independent of each other. The room in LA was exciting; I felt like a child, giddy, desperately taking photos in an attempt to capture the experience. This time around the experience felt more self-reflective. I was more aware of the tranquility of the scene, which was largely attributed to the fact the museum workers ask those waiting outside the room to remain silent. Inside the room, it feels like you are alone in this alternate dimension, but the experience is more soothing than frightening.

Naturally, I took an abundance of photos, but I almost felt that shattered the illusion. I wish I could return to the room and just sit on the platform surrounded by water for as long as I wanted. The logistics of allowing each visitor to stay in the room for 60 seconds makes sense, but it leaves the viewer yearning for more. Right when you enter a daze of seeing an endless number of lights and your reflection again and again, the door swings open, distorting your vision, and you find yourself back in the dingy lighting of the museum.

Still, Kusama’s installations are a very unique and unforgettable experience that I highly recommend seeing. Fireflies on the Water is currently on display at the Toledo Museum of Art and will be open until April 26.

Nellie Shih

Although she loves drowning in all the work that comes with being an engineer, Nellie also loves art. She is an avid photographer, and she can't study in the UMMA Cafe because she'll get distracted by the exhibits. Her favorite film is La La Land, and she is somewhat unashamedly a huge Game of Thrones fan.

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