Infinity and Beyond: Immersing in Kusama

Kusama’s environments proffer analog experiences both within and beyond our universes.

Montréal is emerging from two years of pandemic lockdowns and curfews with a bustling summer restaurant scene, the return of festivals, and the reopening of museums. Topping it off is an extra special treat: a new exhibition by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. “It’s the bomb,” says PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art managing director and curator Cheryl Sim. The non-profit organization, which operates out of a trio of buildings in Old Montréal, was fortunate that the 93-year-old artist agreed to the relatively small exhibition amid several larger retrospectives around the world, says Sim.

Yayoi Kusama, INFINITY MIRRORED ROOM – DANCING LIGHTS THAT FLEW UP TO THE UNIVERSE, 2019. Mirrored glass, wood, LED lighting system, metal, and acrylic panel. Courtesy of David Zwirner.

“Dancing Lights that Flew up to the Universe” includes two of Kusama’s celebrated Infinity Mirrored Rooms, as well as a duo of Peep-In Rooms and a tightly curated selection of paintings and sculptures. Full of dots and mirrors, the work sparks delight, but also has deeper resonances that are particularly apt for this moment of emergence from the pandemic. It’s about “exploring the tensions between being in our bodies and part of the world, and being connected to something larger than ourselves,” says Sim.

Photo by Yusuke Miyazaki
Courtesy David Zwirner, New York; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai; Victoria Miro, London/Venice

Kusama has long-standing personal experiences with feelings of connection and disconnection: since she was a child, she has suffered from hallucinations, perceiving patterns that engulfed her surroundings and consumed her. She checked herself into a hospital in 1977, where she has lived since. She likens her own being to a single dot among an infinite number of dots. “Being amid thousands of points of lights, there’s a fear of being lost and disappearing, but we also hope that visitors find a moment of peace,” says Sim. The exhibition runs until January 15, 2023 at PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art.

Elsa Lam is editor of Canadian Architect.