This winter Mariko Mori invites visitors of the Royal Academy to take part in “a prayer for peace and harmony for each living being on Earth” with immersive installations which reflect the artist’s own Buddhist beliefs and reverence for the natural world. This exhibition, which studies the winter solstice amongst other ecological miracles, is perfectly timed as Mariko’s pieces glow ice-white, mirroring the frosty glaze which currently covers Burlington Garden’s entrance on the coldest day of the year so far.
The artist herself was there for the Press View, glimmering in this same opalescent white which gilds much of the show, and speaking in the soft tones expected from such a peaceful being. Before even entering the gallery, visitors are greeted by Birds: two glass swirls, almost conch shells, which gleam with mother of pearl golds and blues. Rather than breathing the sounds of the sea however, a whispered sound piece We Are Here is just audible in the vast entrance hallway. Against the solid stone staircase and bustle of London’s busy Mayfair, in both aesthetics and through spoken directions, this piece is a reminder for visitors to stop and to slow down. It is intended to begin the meditative experience which is Rebirth, and it is absolutely successful in initiating a process of deep contemplation.
The title of first piece, Tom Na H-iu, orientalises a Gaelic word for a hill of yew trees which is also a place of rest for transmigrating souls; immediately with this title, Mariko points out that the cycle of life is timeless, universal, regardless of religious preference and belief. This is entirely the statement of this exhibition: we are all in this together. At five metres tall this clouded glass column towers over the viewer and, containing hundreds of LED lights, brings warmth to otherwise sterile surroundings. Connected to the University of Tokyo’s Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, these LEDs light up with every explosion that marks the death of a star; the exhibition begins and ends with both the death and birth of a star – a rebirth. Tom Na H-iu dwarves the viewer as the first of a series of works which emphasize human insignificance in comparison to the force of nature; the light show itself is mesmerising, reminding of shooting stars, the milky way, celestial powers.
Following this – the show is very much led, with stated Entrance and Exit points – are Flat Stone and Primal Memory, whose oversized pure white pebbles associate themselves to Japanese peace gardens, whilst clear acrylic casts of an ancient Jomon vase and mask refer to a civilisation whose lifestyle was dictated entirely by nature. These sculptural assemblages make a statement, but are by no means as absorbing as Mariko’s utterly overwhelming light pieces.
The exhibition is mixed, most clearly exemplified by its Drawing section whereby a series of glass-framed psychedelic photo-paintings add a hallucinatory, trippy element which diverts from the previously calming atmosphere. Still, whilst aesthetically discordant, the concept remains the cycle of life as circular objects – cells, bubbles, clouds – indicate natural miracles, and appeasingly, to accompany these gaudy images is a sculptural piece in the centre of the room. A clear crystal pendant hangs ceiling to floor, hovering above a jagged quartz-like base and a circle of clear glass bubbles; simple but mesmerising as soft prism rainbows glint on rough rock; although dominated by large, extremely impressive works, Mariko’s exhibition also features small moments of glory amongst other, perhaps less considered pieces.
A round room contains hand drawings which are more intimate and personal than the photo-paintings: drawn by Mariko at dawn by the ocean in Okiwana, in tiny flecks of glitter and shaky circular pencil lines illustrating the artist’s affinity with nature – proposing that if more of us were to take time to appreciate our surroundings, we could also find a way to see through the obvious and into a harmonious realm which Mariko refers to as an “invisible world which you don’t see”. Central to this display of drawings is an imperfect iridescent sphere, the size of a classroom globe and suggesting an actualisation of this tranquil, “invisible” world.
Finally, Mariko returns to the gentle glows of the solar system with Transcircle and White Hole: the first a stone circle of rounded humanoid forms – some lit with pale rainbow tones, some dark. At first it’s difficult to work out whether it is just eyes playing tricks, but in fact these tall domes do change colour – each representing one planet and illuminated according to its position in relation to the sun; again Mariko grounds the skies.
White Hole however ends the exhibition with a chance to look up at the heavens: blurred light-forms flit and swirl through a rounded skylight to brighten the arched ceiling of a dark room. In its scale this piece serves as one last reminder that we are just a miniscule part of an infinite universe, and with light patterns designed to echo those emitted during the birth of a star it reminds of that universe’s vast capacity for regeneration. In looking at what can be born out of a Black Hole, rather than what can die within it, this artist offers an alternative to life and death: a cycle of rebirth which is entirely optimistic.
Mariko’s ecologically concerned artwork is not only limited to a gallery environment, so with films, photography and prototypes, Rebirth also offers an insight into her exciting proposals for interventional projects: Sun Pillar and Ring – fascinating works which like much of Mori’s practice will unify art and science, and aim to encourage worldwide respect and appreciation for the natural world, its miracles and endless possibilities. With these ambitious plans for the future, and an exhibition which can only be described as a wholly immersive experience, Mariko Mori has certainly secured herself a place on the “ones to watch” list of 2013.
Mariko Mori: Rebirth, running until 17 February 2013, Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy, Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD.
1. Mariko Mori, Primal Memory, 2004, courtesy of Royal Academy and the artist.
2. Mariko Mori, Flat Stone, 2006, courtesy of Royal Academy and the artist.
3. Mariko Mori, Tom Na H-Iu, 2006, courtesy of Royal Academy and the artist.
4. Mariko Mori, Transcircle, 2004, courtesy of Royal Academy and the artist.
5. Mariko Mori, video still from Journey to Seven Lights bay, 2011, courtesy of Royal Academy and the artist.