[Around Town] The first major exhibition of Mariko Mori’s work for 14 years explores life and death through age-old cultures and cosmic movements
Summary: According to ancient calendars, the winter solstice in 2012 was to herald the end of the world and the birth of a new one, and Mariko Mori’s works explore this circularity with references to the ancient cultures of Jomon Japan and the Celts in Europe.
The exhibition is bookended by two installations which sum up Mori’s focus on death and renewal.
The first is entitled Tom Na H-iu II (2006) - a name derived from the Celtic word for sites which guided souls returning to earth - and takes the form of a large glass monolith lit from within by LED lights. The work is connected to a computer at the University of Tokyo which monitors neutrinos – the product of radioactive decay – in the atmosphere and the lights change colour according to the types of neutrinos detected.
WhileTom Na H-iu II focuses on death and decay, the exhibition’s closing work, White Hole (2012), explores rebirth. The installation is approached through a dark curved corridor leading to a closed spaced with a single light source, alluding to the light patterns emitted at the rebirth of a star as it is released from the pull of a black hole.
Between these two installations are an assortment of drawings, paintings, sculptural work and installations which further explore Mori’s preoccupations.
Highlights: Transcircle 1.1 (2004) is the most compelling of Mori’s installations and consists of nine waist-height acrylic ‘stones’ arranged so as to evoke ancient stone circles. The forms symbolise the planets of the solar system and LED lights allow each to glow a different colour, based on the movements of the planets over a year.
You also get a preview of two of the six site-specific outdoor installations that Mori is working on, one in each of the habitable continents.
Primal Rhythm on Japan’s Miyako Island consists of Sun Pillar, a plexiglass column built in 2011 on a rock cluster off the island, and Moonstone, a structure which will be installed in the sea between Sun Pillar and the bay. Moonstone will change colour according to the phase of the moon, while Sun Pillar will reflect the changing colour of the sea and sky and has been positioned so that at the winter solstice, its shadow intersects the Moonstone.
Another of Mori’s installations – the aptly named Ring – is previewed at the exhibition and will eventually be suspended above a waterfall in the rainforest of Visconde de Mauá, Brazil.
Low points: With the focus on the solstices, the movements of the tides and cosmic happenings, Mori’s work can get a bit too ‘new age’ at times. The lowest points come just as you enter and leave the exhibition; a sound recording plays Mori’s trace-like voice repeating esoteric sweet nothings: ‘We are nature… We are one with everything… We came here to view peace… We are here, and we are still alive…’ (it goes on). Does anyone take that stuff seriously?
Curator’s comment: ‘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.’
Final word: Worth seeing for the artist’s bold use of colours, textures and space. As for much of the philosophy behind Mori’s works, you can take it or leave it.
Mariko Mori: Rebirth
Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD
Until 17 February 2013