Collected Works: Art
Fireflies on the Water
by Yayoi Kusama
Behind an unremarkable door lies a room of wonder, detached from the whitewashed gallery in which it is located. Hundreds of coloured lights hang perfectly still, suspended from the ceiling as if caught in an intricate web. Reflected in the mirrored walls around and the gently rippling pool of water below, the bulbs appear to multiply exponentially. Solid boundaries are difficult to discern; the space seems to stretch infinitely outwards.
It is easy to lose a grasp of time within Kusama’s creation, separated as we are from the outside world. Confronting the room alone, we feel we have stumbled upon a self-contained, self-renewing environment. But our immersion is disrupted by the draconian ‘timed-ticket’ policy, operated by the gallery’s invigilators. As our allocated slot reaches its end, the room’s status as an artwork is re-established, jolting us out of our dream-like state and returning us, dazed, to reality.
Timeless as it may seem, the reception of Fireflies on the Water has shifted since its inaugural outing. Online image searches now return selfie after selfie, taken by viewers during their limited spell inside the box. Once captured, these photographs are publically broadcasted, proliferating across social media channels. Endlessness is celebrated here not only for its aesthetic and spiritual appeal, but also for its ability to centralise the individual.
The phenomenon has profound implications for Kusama’s rhetoric; Fireflies on the Water is a meditation on the transcendental, but may not always be approached as such. There is an interesting instance of subversion at play, as individuals reframe the work on their own terms. Is each visitor’s photo-souvenir simply a document for the purpose of posterity, or is it a manifestation of modern vanity, twisting the infinite inwards into a celebration of the self?
Words by Katherine Fieldgate
More to discover
You can visit Yayoi Kusama's official website here, and see more images of Fireflies on the Water on The New York Times' website. Liz Stinson has written about Kusama's series of 'infinity rooms' for Wired, and Priscilla Frank has noted the installations' link to selfie culture in an article for The Huffington Post.
Rosanna Greenstreet has interviewed the artist for The Guardian, as have Sophie Knight for The Telegraph, Oliver Maxwell Kupper for Autre, David Pilling for the Financial Times, Birgit Sonna for Sleek Magazine, and Grady T. Turner for BOMB Magazine.