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Travel back to 1968 with Yayoi Kusama, Ron Athey and the Joshua Light Show

Travel back to 1968 with Yayoi Kusama, Ron Athey and the Joshua Light Show
Darkside and the Joshua Light Show at the 2013 Trancender Festival in London. (Mark Sethi / Joshua White)

Los Angeles knows a thing or two about Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms. Those kaleidoscopic chambers, now on view at the Broad museum downtown, are triggering a blizzard of multicolored, polka-dotted and pumpkin-patch selfies to hit your social media feed.

Lesser known is that Kusama, who was part of New York’s avant-garde art scene in the 1960s, used her psychedelic Infinity Mirror Rooms as performance spaces. She also often hired photographers to shoot her posing in the rooms for publicity and documentation, further replicating the string of imagery they generated.

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The Broad has organized public programs to show the breadth of Kusama’s nearly seven-decade career and to contextualize her as a performer. The museum will screen films of Kusama performing in the ’60s and more recently. It will also present live performances by visiting and local artists.

For three evenings Nov. 2-4, the Broad will present the Joshua Light Show, a collective of light artists created by visual artist and TV director Joshua White. In 1968 Kusama performed with the Joshua Light Show in New York’s Fillmore East. For the Broad performances — tickets include timed entry to the Kusama exhibition — the collective will perform with experimental musician Lesley Flanigan, Cibo Matto vocalist Miho Hatori’s New Optimism and Sarah Lipstate’s “solo electric guitar project,” Noveller.

Visitors will be encouraged to turn off their phones and recline on pillows on the floor, as an audience might have in 1968. The artists will then transform the museum’s Oculus Hall with psychedelic projections and live music. The light and sound environment is meant to evoke Kusama’s “self-obliteration” performances of the ’60s.

“The environment Kusama created in the mirror rooms — this sense of infinity — gave people in the performances that sense of infinity too,” says Ed Patuto, the Broad’s director of audience engagement. “There was a sense of losing yourself, of losing space, or losing place, if you will.”

Los Angeles performance artist Ron Athey’s “Gifts of the Spirit: Prophecy, Automatism and Discernment” is a natural pairing with Kusama’s work, Patuto says. Together with composer Sean Griffin, Athey will “complete” his memoirs in a performance and installation work that includes writers, typists, singers, musicians and even a hypnotist.

As Athey reads the story of his life in the former St. Vibiana cathedral downtown during two performances on Jan. 25, his words will be “obliterated” by the soundscape around him — one big “automatic writing machine,” as he calls it. The work was developed with a grant from the Mike Kelley Foundation and was co-produced by the Broad and the nonprofit artists collective Volume.

“It’s clear there are real parallels between Ron’s practice and Kusama — this concept of obliteration and radical connectivity,” Patuto says. “Kusama’s belief of radical connectivity — on a physical plane, a spiritual plane and a political plane — she felt was a belief and practice that could change the world.”

The Broad will screen the six short films of Kusama in a loop from noon to 8 p.m. on select Thursdays and Saturdays throughout the run of “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors,” which closes Jan. 1.

The museum also will debut a video series, “#infiniteLA,” in which Angelenos from the worlds of art, politics, food, science and social justice will address questions relating to Kusama’s work, such as where in Los Angeles they most feel infinity. Participants include artist Mark Bradford, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors and UCLA climate scientist Aradhna Tripati.

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