The Obliteration Room by Yayoi Kusama: The Pavilion Tokyo 2021
Imagine you cover your entire body with polka dots. Not only that, you also cover the background with them. What happens then is “self-obliteration,” in which you completely wipe out your self on your own. Likewise, imagine a horse covered by polka dots against the background that is also covered by them. Gradually, the framework or the shape that allows us to recognize horse a horse disappears, and he eventually dissolves into polka dots. His soul dissolves into some eternal existence. That’s when “I” also obliterate.
(Yayoi Kusama, “Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama”, 2002) Translation by the author.
“Self-obliteration” has been Kusama’s artistic pursuit since 1960’s, no matter how it felt overwhelming and intimidating. She has been using polka dots repeatedly in her works to express the process of obliteration that involved herself as well as others. As part of the “Pavilion Tokyo 2021,” which featured nine artists including Kusama, she created an installation named the “Obliteration Room.”
Visitors go in the rooms, add polka dots of various colors anywhere they want. Gradually, the items in each room start dissolving into them. Soon, the entire rooms will disappear in them. Visitors spontaneously joined Kusama to become part of the self-obliteration process.
These pictures were taken at the relatively early stage of the exhibition. Imagine how the room will be taken over by the polka dots by the end of the event.
By the way, “self-obliteration” sounds like Zen. The ultimate goal in Buddhism is to reach Nirvana, a state/stage where there is no longer any kinds of pains nor sorrows. You finally achieve eternal peace. But in order to get there, you need to “extinguish” the flames of all kinds of desires and greeds. You need to give up what constitutes your ego one by one, as if you are “self-obliterating” by placing polka dots on your desires one by one.
If that’s the case, self-obliteration is not self-destruction. It is actually the opposite. By stripping off your ambitions, you gradually become “nothing.” And when you become completely empty (obliterated), you can finally dissolve into the vast universe and become a complete/integral part of the “whole,” and your existence will become full.