25 June 2009

Walking in my Mind

The Hayward Gallery in central London is currently hosting an exhibition of artists whose work “explores the inner working of the artist's imagination through dramatic, large-scale installation art.”

Walking in My Mind features the work of ten international artists. It uses both indoor and outdoor spaces, with each sculptured space representing the individual mindscape of a different artist. One important theme is the blurring of boundaries between inner and outer space.

The exhibition has been co-curated by Mami Kataoka who works as a senior curator at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. Kataoka’s presence has ensured that three exciting Japanese artists: Yayoi Kusama, Yoshimoto Nara, and Chiharu Shiota.

Yayoi Kusama (草間彌生, b.1929)

The oldest artist in the exhibition and probably the most internationally recognized of the ten. Kusama’s work demonstrates her obsession with pattern (particularly polka dots), repetition, and accumulation. Her work has been associated with surrealism, l’art brut, and abstract expressionism. Kusama suffered severe trauma as a child and as an adult has struggled with mental health issues. These struggles are an inextricable part of her art, which to me has always demonstrated how in the souls of even the most troubled one can find things of indescribable beauty. Kusama’s work has been used in the poster art for the event (see above).

Yoshimoto Nara (奈良美智, b. 1959)

As an artist, Nara came to international recognition as a part of the 1990s J-pop art movement. Like Kusama, Nara has a minimalist aesthetic, but underneath his seemingly harmless subject matter (cute children and animals drawn or sculpted in a manga-influenced manner) lies some disturbing elements. For example, often the children have nasty expressions on their faces. At other times, there is something disturbing lurking somewhere else in the painting, drawing, or sculpture. Despite the sometimes spooky nature of his art, there is something quite magnetic about it that captures one’s attention.

Chiharu Shiota (塩田千春, b. 1972)

This young Kansai artist has a nightmarish element to her art which reminds me of the work of Fuyuko Matsui (松井冬子). Although the two women are working in two very different artistic aesthetics (Nihonga vs. modern art), both of their work succeeds in being both spellbinding and giving me a chill up my spine with its deeply macabre nature. Themes in Shiota’s work include entanglement, binding, and entrapment. I particularly enjoy the architectural elements to her installation work. Shiota has an extensive gallery of photographs of her work on her official website.

For more about this exhibit, see the Guardian’s video review of the event, or go to the Hayward’s website.