One Dot Amongst Millions: Entering Yayoi Kusama’s Perception by Jessica Llamas

One Dot Amongst Millions: Entering Yayoi Kusama’s Perception by Jessica Llamas

Phi Foundation for Contemporary Art’s DANCING LIGHTS THAT FLEW UP TO THE UNIVERSE  is an exhibition to celebrate its 15th anniversary, showcasing artworks by the successful Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama. The artist’s unique and avant-garde works from the 1960s to the present day convey themes of nature, infinity, repetition, and accumulation. Notably, Kusama is interested in tackling the concept of the universe and the limits of human existence. She is additionally fascinated with perception, and how individuals view their surroundings. This exhibition permits viewers to explore Kusama’s world and her perspective (Phi Foundation).

From sculptures to paintings to installations, the curation of the artworks in the exhibition depicts not only Kusama’s predominant thematic concerns, but the versatility of her artistic expression and use of mediums. The exhibition is spread out in different buildings and multiple rooms. One building is divided into three gallery rooms: one room outlines a timeline of her life and career, while the other two present bronze pumpkin sculptures and ‘peep-in’ mirror rooms. I believe these were put in the same building because both the sculptures and mirror rooms have a reflective surface, and the viewer is aware of the fact that they are looking at something. One experience of the artwork is observing the piece itself, but one’s reflection is also part of the work. One also has to be close to the art piece, especially the ‘peep-in’ mirror rooms.   You are pulled toward it. The other building is divided into two rooms. One room exhibits eight paintings from Kusama’s My Eternal Soul series and the other showcases two of Kusama’s infinity rooms:      INFINITY MIRRORED ROOM – DANCING LIGHTS THAT FLEW UP TO THE UNIVERSE (2019) and  INFINITY MIRRORED ROOM – BRILLIANCE OF THE SOULS (2014). I suspect these art pieces were assigned to the same building to juxtapose the feeling of observing at a distance and  the feeling of observing while immersed in the artwork. The paintings are large-scale and, together, take up the entire height and width of the wall. One has to step back and observe from a distance to take everything in, but one has to approach the painting to look at the smaller details, while the infinity rooms would give the same perspective, no matter how far or how close the viewer is. This is because the infinity rooms have mirrors for walls and the reflection cannot be changed. This contrast is certainly interesting, because it plays with perception: the viewer is exposed to different ways of viewing and appreciating art, and the world itself.

 I found that The Universe as Seen from the Stairway to Heaven (2021) and  INFINITY MIRRORED ROOM – DANCING LIGHTS THAT FLEW UP TO THE UNIVERSE (2019) were two of her most powerful pieces. The INFINITY MIRRORED ROOM – DANCING LIGHTS THAT FLEW UP TO THE UNIVERSE (2019) is an immersive room that touches on the themes of accumulation and infinity. Upon entering this low-lit closed space, the only sources of light are the little colourful dots hung all around the room. The overwhelming presence of these dots and their constant colour changes create a sense of build-up, representing accumulation. As mentioned, the walls are replaced with mirrors, so that one loses a sense of their surroundings. The surroundings are mirrored and everything around you feels larger; you feel so little, like a small dot amongst a million other dots. These dots allowed Kusama to “predict and measure the infinity of the unbounded universe, from [her] own position within it” (Pamphlet Yayoi Kusama). Additionally, these dots flash vivid colours – green, purple, blue – a conceptualization of  Kusama’s mental illness, psychedelic schizophrenia (Masterworks Fine Art Gallery). Ever since she was young, Kusama would experience vivid hallucinations that were a combination of light flashes, auras, and dense fields of dots, and this consequently affected her perception of the world. This idea was incorporated into her works, like in the infinity mirrored room, and the artist called this concept ‘self-obliteration’ (Unit London). (Figure 3).

The Universe as Seen from the Stairway to Heaven also touches on the themes of accumulation and infinity. The exterior of this cube-like structure has a reflective surface with holes in arbitrary spots. Inside these holes you can see the colourful and brimming insides of the structure. It looks like a fragmented mosaic with vivid colours. The overwhelming presence of colours and different shapes alludes to accumulation, as well as the concept of self-obliteration. Personally, it felt like peeking into another universe. When you walk around the cube, you peer through holes in different places; some are centred, some are higher, some are lower, and some are more to the side, giving you different perspectives of the inside. Walking around this cube, you revolve around it like a planet,  like how the earth revolves around the sun. You can see yourself walking around the cube through the reflective surface, and you feel as though two different universes–you and the universe inside the cube–are circling each other. This is what gives the sense of infinity, and this is why I find this piece powerful. (Figure 4 and Figure 1).

Figure 4. Moose and Hobbes, The Universe as Seen From The Stairway To Heaven, January 2022, Mirrored glass, Tate Modern, London,

To conclude, DANCING LIGHTS THAT FLEW UP TO THE UNIVERSE is an immersive exhibition that allows the audience to interact with the artworks. I believe that this exhibition is worth the visit, as it allows one to explore the world, and the universe, in a completely different manner. It is a fleeting escape from the world that we know of. The curation of the exhibition was meticulously done. The distribution of the artworks in different buildings gave them more meaning, giving the viewer the feeling of walking through a newly discovered cosmic realm.

Works Cited

Pamphlet Yayoi Kusama. Phi Foundation for Contemporary Art, July 2022,


Masterworks Fine Art Gallery. “Yayoi Kusama Biography”. Masterworks Fine Art Gallery,


Phi Foundation. “Yayoi Kusama: DANCING LIGHTS THAT FLEW UP TO THE

UNIVERSE”. Phi Foundation, July 2022,

Unit London. “Yayoi Kusama and Psychedelic  Schizoprenia”. Unit London, 2018,

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