Mariko Mori’s much-anticipated solo exhibition titled Rebirth at the Japan Society is a startling departure from the energy and defiance of her early photographic work. Her transformation from a daring thinker whose cyborgian bad girls portrayed Japanese angst to a meditative Zen like artist is not particularly enthralling.
Long inspired by Buddhist spirituality, Mori’s urge to connect humanity to nature is a noble one. Her endeavor is best communicated through the photographs, hung in the basement of Japan Society, of her earthworks inspired art from the 60’s. What comes to mind from the stark black and white images of circular stone constructions devised on the sea front is not only Mori’s strong connection with nature, but its humbling force over mankind. Yet this energy and association is wanting in her indoor sculptures.
Segregated into three sections titled “origin,” “rupture” and “rebirth,” the exhibition begins with a pre-historic Kaen-doki “flame vase,” from the Jomon period dated 3,500 – 2,500 BCE. Stone formations that were used to create places of worship from this ancient Japanese culture are the basis and foundation of her new practice. But from Transcribe 1.1, 2004, and Flatstone, 2006, circular structures created from Corian pillars and ceramic stones, one gets a sense of artificiality despite the pervading ambiance of serenity and calm. The LED lighting that illuminates the pillars changes colors according to a preprogrammed movement of the planets. However, it fails to evoke the sensations one experiences by works for example by James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson that manipulate light. Lacking in the notion of transcendence or the sublime, these indoor sculptures appear to be contrived rather than organic in their function.
The weakest link in the show is the display of eight colorful rotating disks in the section titled “rupture.” Meant to convey the transforming qualities of Buddhist philosophy, here color gradations on the Cibachrome prints change based on the viewer’s vantage point. Accompanied by Mori’s incantatory voiceover that chants, “We are nature. We are sustained by nature. We are sharing nature…” Miracle, 2001, seems more of a technical feat, and falls prey to pseudo shamanism.
Strongest at her outdoor conceptualizations, Mori’s video installation of a work in progress known as Primal Rhythm, 2011, best communicates her vision in the last section titled ‘Rebirth.” A sun pillar erected on a rock in the Miyako Island of Japan will capture the northern light and cast its shadow on a floating “moonstone” that will be placed in its path. The color of the white buoy is expected to change according to the season and the tide. Compelling for how it intends to alter our mind set and mood, images of this work not only reveal the immense power of nature but also come closest to conjuring the immersive experiences of Turrell and Eliasson.
Equally convincing are a series of mixed media works on paper that capture various cosmological formations in the sky. A quiet serenity emanates from these delicately rendered clusters of oval patterns that instill a sense of mystery about the solar system. Both aesthetic and ethereal the drawings convey Mori’s spiritual connection with the universe.
But these works not withstanding, the final piece titled White Hole, 2008-11, made up of a convex white lens that is meant to counter the degenerative power of the black hole is not new or refreshing. Installed in the ceiling of a dark room where the surface of the lens resembles the open sky, this combination of Anish Kapoor and Turrell achieves neither the awe nor sustainability of either artist.
Ultimately, even if Mariko Mori’s deeper yearnings are imparted to the viewer, the overall effect punches less in the gut and lacks the overwhelming sensation of her earlier cultural and earthbound concerns.
By Bansie Vasvani