Over her 90 years of life and artistic innovation, Yayoi Kusama has accomplished a great deal with polka-dots as her medium, often finding larger ideas of existence and meaning within their forms. She once said, “Dots are a symbol of the world, the cosmos. The earth is a dot, the sun, the stars are all made up of dots. You and me, we are dots.” She has also remarked, somewhat more simply, “Polka-dots are fabulous.”
There is a lot going on in Yayoi Kusama’s latest piece, “LOVE IS CALLING,” but it all boils down to the polka-dot, and it is fabulous.
Now on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), “LOVE IS CALLING” is a must-see. Kusama’s extensive oeuvre stretches from couture to canvas, but she is perhaps most well-known for her immersive infinity rooms. These psychedelic environments are characterized by mirrored walls, allowing viewers to see themselves reflected amongst a perpetual landscape.
At a little under 15x30x20 feet, “LOVE IS CALLING,” is her twentieth infinity room and largest work yet. Emerging from the ground and ceiling, glowing tentacles covered in polka-dots illuminate the small expanse, cutting through the cast of darkness. Thanks to the mirrors, the sculptures appear to replicate endlessly, creating a forest of fantasy, a miniature universe in itself.
The tentacles themselves range in size. Some are waist-high; others rise above the head. They change color frequently—soft pastel hues quickly shift to vivid neons and back again. At times the colors of each tentacle complement each other in monochromatic beauty, and at times they brazenly display every color of the rainbow.
Kusama’s voice fills the space from speakers with a continuous recording of her reading a self-written poem in Japanese. With a title that translates to “Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears,” the poem is about love, life, death and loss. The combined effect—of the tentacles, the mirrors, the poem—is otherworldliness.
A main theme of “LOVE IS CALLING” and Kusama’s work in general is the concept of infinity itself. The ICA introduces the room with a definitive quote from the artist herself: “Polka-dots are a way to infinity. When we obliterate nature and our own bodies with polka-dots, we become part of the unity of our environment and we obliterate ourselves in love.”
It is that enveloping nature of Kusama’s room, the ability to see oneself in the geography of it all, that lets viewers experience her notion of infinity firsthand. In the never-ending reflection of colors and figures, one becomes just another dot in the larger picture.
Entering the structure is disorienting and spellbinding, almost like falling through the rabbit hole. The museum allows only two minutes to stay in the room and absorb the experience, and the call to exit marks a disappointing reminder that reality exists.
At the heart of Kusama’s work, however, is the idea that reality does not need to be so harsh. “LOVE IS CALLING” is all about connection. At the end of her poem, which is displayed in English on a wall outside of the room, she writes, “Devoting all my heart to you, I lived through to this day/ Hoping to leave beautiful footprints at the end of my life/ I spend each day praying that my wish will be fulfilled/ This is my message of love to you.”
This room is one such beautiful footprint that Kusama has left for us, and it invites viewers to see through the eyes of the artist. In her polka-dotted world, love is calling, just as the name suggests. It is grabbing at you from every inch of the kaleidoscopic multitude, asking you to see the colors that lie just beyond what is tangible.