Currently reading : (self)accumulation and obliteration: exploring the limitations of the body
Our condition as individuals, separate and distinct from one another, seems to create within us a natural curiosity with our opposite – multiplicity. The desire to escape singularity and reach beyond the limitations and restrictions of an individual body has been felt by many. Such a dense and enormous issue leads to a huge variety in interpretation, however numerous artists have found an escape from singularity in the creative processes of self accumulation and self obliteration.
Artists such as Yayoi Kusama and Lucas Samaras address these themes of accumulation and obliteration; their work, often unsettling and yet unsettlingly comforting, revolves around the simultaneous denial and acknowledgement of their own singular bodies.
Kusama and Samaras are striking in that they both endeavor to illuminate their ideas through the use of a simple motif: the dot. Symbolically, the dot is the starting point from which all things arise. As with the big bang, the mandala, or the circle, the dot represents the centre point, marking the very origin of the infinite. It is pure potentiality, it combines all opposites, it contains every thing. Expressed within this tiny mark is the assurance that from the singular can be born an infinite accumulation of possibility and direction.
Both Kusama and Samaras use the dot motif as a way of obliterating and multiplying the singular self. Throughout their work we see the repetition of dots, clustered, teeming and flowing across the surfaces of their surroundings and their naked skin.
Kusama says of her relationship with the dot: “…a polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement… Polka dots are a way to infinity.”
Her connection with the symbolism of the dot is deeply felt; for her, dots encompass the Ying-Yang, uniting the opposing forces of light and dark – they are calm, they are energy, they are all. In pieces such as Self Obliteration, Kusama uses her body as a canvas for pattern, enveloping her body with a swathe of dots; they fragment and fracture identity, obliterating it altogether.
Speaking of this process, Kusama explains: “I make them and make them, and then keep on making them, until I bury myself in the process. I call this ‘obliteration’.” The skin, usually a representative of identity and platform for individual expression – communicating gender, race, age, history, scars, emotion, sexuality, style, modification – is subverted by the presence of these dots and becomes buried. Arguably this is an incredibly liberating and freeing process.
Lucas Samaras has gone on similar creative journeys with the dot motif. In Still Life, July 29, 1978, through the extreme repetition of dots his body becomes almost invisible, a vague outline that merges with his surroundings. In this way, self obliteration allows him to shake off the restrictions of the singular body and visualize a relationship between his finite body and the infinite.
The dots in his work are shoal-like, star-like and shimmering – they provoke his viewers to reflect on our own physicality, and how we are assembled with the same combination of particles, molecules and atoms as everything else. Here, the importance of the self and the singular body is obliterated; he acknowledges the human condition, yet transcends it, portraying a sense of wider perspective. Our body is the surface which signifies our space in the world, yet we are not so separated from each other or our environments as we may believe. We are part of the world as well.
Another artist which has interpreted the idea of self obliteration through dots is Ruth Thorne-Thomsen. Her manipulated photograph, Dot Lady, exhibits the complete destruction of the physical body, which is instead represented by burnt black dots. The weight, depth and shape of the physical self no longer exists. Like Samaras, she breaks down the importance of the body, with the dots illustrating a sense of inner energy and cellular form.
Also of note are Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Rooms, installation pieces of incredible beauty. Within a darkened room of mirrors, strings of glowing dots hang silently before the viewer; infinitely multiplied by the room’s mirrored walls, these lights seem to stretch and twinkle on through the darkness forever. The individual body – also infinitely multiplied and peppered with dots – is no longer recognizable as such, and the isolation of singularity no longer exists.We are plunged into an experience of the infinite, lost in a disorientating and dizzying assembly of colour and pattern, and led into a humbling world of suspended self, participating in self-obliteration as well as self-accumulation.
Kusama, as well as Samaras and Thorne-Thomsen, show that the dot motif truly connects the self with the universe. It captures the union of opposites, and through aesthetic processes with the body it can remove the physical body from its singularity to a liberating state of multiplicity, obliteration and accumulation.