This winter we welcome New York based Japanese artist Mariko Mori to our new space for art and architecture in Burlington Gardens. Her first major exhibition in London for 14 years, Rebirth includes some of Mori’s most acclaimed works from the last 11 years, alongside new works created especially for this exhibition. Starting and ending with the death and birth of a star, the cycle of life and rebirth is an important theme of the show, which includes photography, works on paper, sound works, as well as sculpture and large scale immersive installations and environments that invite contemplation.
The exhibition has been developed in close collaboration with the artist, and is timed to coincide with the winter solstice in 2012. According to ancient calendars, this year’s solstice will either mark the end of the world or the birth of a new era.
Since her first exhibitions in the mid-1990s, Mori’s practice has been rooted in both traditional and contemporary Japanese culture, and between East and West. Her works juxtapose contrasting aesthetic languages that have ranged from traditional tea ceremonies to Manga and cyber culture, fusing Shintoism and Buddhism with the hard planes of science and technology. Mori’s recent practice has evolved around a fascination with ancient cultures, among them prehistoric Jomon (c.14,000 – 300 BC) in Japan and Celtic traditions in Europe. Founded on a belief in cycles of death and rebirth, these were marked by a holistic world view that placed mankind in a more harmonious relationship with our surroundings. These interests are expressed through emerging technologies and digital media, which the artist embraces as tools to be harnessed in order to reconnect with our environment.
Mariko Mori, Rebirth, Royal Academy of Arts
Having not heard of Mariko Mori before I made my way to the Royal Academy in Burlington Gardens with no notion of what I was to see or what to expect. Nothing could have prepared me for this exhibition nor the feelings and emotions it made me feel. It is indeed an experience; both subliminal and academic.
Mariko Mori is a well established and prominent artist in Japan. Her art is rooted in both traditional and contemporary culture, between East and West and between the spiritual and material world. Mori explores themes that encompass Buddhism, spirituality, Celtic traditions and cyberspace. She explores her fascination with ancient cultures such as the Jomon period in Japan (13,000 to 300 BCE) and Celtic traditions in Europe and her belief in cycles of death and rebirth. Mankind is put in harmony with its natural surroundings and there is a respect for nature and a connection to ancient ceremonies, meditations and cosmic energy forces which she likes to term ‘universal consciousness’.
Already as you walk up the steps on your way to the exhibition there is an arresting concave shaped object hanging from the ceiling. I must say I found it mesmerising - as I would the rest of the exhibition! Its yellow, pale shape as two embryonic-like objects embrace each other made me think immediately of birth and death, the body and the connection between the spiritual and material world and this was even before I read the introduction to Mori and her exhibition. The first installation of the exhibition is called Ton Na Hiu II and is made of glass and stainless steel. It is a massive concave structure that is positioned at the end of a completely white room. It pulses with a dancing light inside and is both peaceful yet energising, beautiful, womb-like. You learn that it is connected in real time to a computer at the Institute of Cosmic Ray Research at the University of Tokyo and reflects the presence of different types of neutrinos (form of dark matter) within the Earth’s atmosphere. Its Gaelic translation is ‘hill of yew trees’ and is thus associated with fairies, mythical events and rest for transmigrating souls.
Mori uses flat moonstone many times throughout the exhibition. One of the central installations is called Miracle – 2001. Made from cibachrome prints, glass, crystal and metal salt we see several round installations with vibrant, vivid colours inside which are pictures of various sphere like forms and bubbles. All the pictures are oddly both restful yet dynamic filling the viewer with a positivity and energy. There is also an eerie and strange beauty to these hanging pieces of art. Juxtaposed to this is a piece, named White Hole – 2008 which is a beautiful dense white sphere placed on mixed media and paper. The white hole considers the possibility of a presence beyond the all consuming energy of the black hole. To look at it is remarkably beautiful and restful.
I admired every single work of art in her exhibition and many of them inspired strong emotions within me. One of the highlights of the exhibition is called Sand Pillar and records Mori’s attempts to find locations in the world where the winter solstice can be chanelled by the combination of a moonstone and a sand pillar. She use moonstone circles as there is a mystery surrounding the stone circles with is generally believed to be associated with religious ceremony and new cycles of life. Mori tells us that she hopes to install six similar installations in six locations around the world. There is much photographic footage of her experiment and a lengthy explanation of what she is trying to achieve.
Certainly you should go and visit the Royal Academy to view this incredible range of art and to have the Mariko Mori experience. Perhaps it will not have the same effect on you as it did me but it is well worth a look. As for me I shall be making sure I am aware of every one of this artist’s next steps!
by Larissa Woolf, Arts Editor, VisitMuseums.com
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