A Star Is Reborn: Mariko Mori Expands Through Inner And Outer SpaceWhen you Google Mariko Mori, you come face-to-face with images of a living doll—literally. The artist's 1994 piece Play With Me had her stationed outside a Tokyo toy store in anime-esque garb, with baby-blue pigtails and a plastic breastplate over a short, metallic dress. In another work from that year, Mori rode the subway in character as an alien visitor just arrived in Tokyo.
Today Japan Society Gallery launches Mori's first solo exhibition in New York in more than 10 years. A divergence from her work of centuries past (well, the '90s), Rebirth: Recent Work by Mariko Mori brings the focus on nature, conveying both its power and serenity.
The show “has a very urgent message about reconnecting with nature, which is not just an issue that’s being talked about by artists. It is a global concern right now,” says Dr. Miwako Tezuka, director of Japan Society Gallery, who curated the exhibition. “We’ve been experiencing such harsh weather. Everybody’s concerned about what’s going on with nature.”
Just a year ago this month, the brightest city in the world went dark for weeks when late-season Hurricane Sandy eliminated electricity from the bottom half of Manhattan. Polar bears swim for days. Mori’s home country will long feel the effects of the March 2011 tsunami.
While once Mariko Mori represented pop aesthetics and the subculture of Japan, her recent work has brought her back to basics: as in the beginning of it all.
“She’s going back to the roots," says Tezuka. "Not the cultural roots of Japan like she was doing before, but even farther back into a prehistoric period where there really were no cultural differences in the world. Where people didn’t have electricity or machines and really lived closely, intimately with nature.”
Unlike her past work, the pieces in Rebirth were born from Mori’s personal research, often from her travels to places like Egypt, Brazil, and Scotland, where so much ancient architecture still stands.
The show is full of light and shapes, a pale, shifting exhibition reminiscent of the sun rising over a young Earth again and again. Depending on one’s perspective, personal associations could range from the Book of Genesis to the opening sequence of Star Wars to whatever Terrence Malick’s been up to. Rare will be the attendee who doesn't spot Stonehenge.
The centerpiece of the show is an installation called White Hole (pictured above): the opposite of space's terrifying black holes of childhood fascination and nightmares. A domed enclosure built in the south gallery, White Hole starts as a pitch-dark space and gradually illuminates with the projection of swirling light.
Tezuka explains: “It’s based on the theory of a white hole--the antithesis of a black hole. Everything that was killed by the black hole shapes together as a renewed energy and emerges from the white hole. It’s an astrophysics theory that Mariko has been very interested in in recent years.”
Another celestial piece (though firmly fixed to the gallery floor) is Transcircle 1.1. Nine pillars made of stone and an industrial acrylic polymer synchronize with the position of the nine (yes, nine!) planets in our solar system. Their individual pastel colors pulsate at speeds reflecting the planets' orbits around the sun.
Rebirth is an ethereal picture of prehistory, astronomy, geology, ancient religion and technology, showing how they all mix in the world around us.
When asked how to sum up the show in a sentence, Tezuka said “pure” and then laughed, realizing she didn't need half a dozen more words to convey its Zen-like ambiance. “A lot of things are white”—Mori’s signature color—“and the basic concept is pure and simple: be aware of the presence of nature.”
Though the galleries proper are on the second floor, visitors will get a taste of this pure simplicity when they are greeted by Ring, hanging against the waterfall of the Society's indoor bamboo garden.
“Mariko placed it in an environment that symbolizes nature, where there’s water, earth, plants and light from above,” Tezuka says. The piece is a prototype for a large-scale version that will be hung above a Brazilian waterfall in the near future.
From sunset each evening through Sunday, Mori’s latest video work Ālaya lights up the building just above the Society’s entryway for not only gallery-goers but passersby on the busy streets outside. The title alludes to the fundamental consciousness all sentient beings share in Buddhist philosophy.
It’s worth coming in to escape the masses, as Tezuka notes: “New York life is so busy all the time. You are surrounded with noise and different crowds. Rebirth will calm you down. Instead of going to yoga, come see this exhibition!”
Rebirth: Recent Work by Mariko Mori is on view at Japan Society through January 12, 2014.
Image: Mariko Mori, Miracle, 2001. Eight Cibachrome prints, diachronic glass,salt, and crystals; each element 27 1/4 inches. Collection of Mr. Chen Rong-Chuan. Photo by Richard Goodbody.