The first time I saw Yayoi Kusama’s artwork was on Instagram—those enchanting selfies with thousands of sparkling lights suspended in the dark, seeming to go on and on in space limitlessly. Those selfies were all over social media, sparking envy in every person who couldn’t make it to Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibition and get a spectacular (albeit extremely similar) photo. When Infinity Mirrors opened at the High Museum in Atlanta, I jumped at the chance to experience Kusama’s artwork in person (and, admittedly, get some Instagram gold). As I stood in line to enter the museum, I wondered how I would feel, surrounded by mirrors on every side. Would it be suffocating? Would I feel trapped? What would it be like to stand in an endless landscape? And—this is very important—how many photos or videos should I attempt to take in the twenty seconds allotted to each room?
The museum was crowded with all kinds of people: groups of friends with phones out ready for the coveted selfie, art people in blazers and berets, and others who had just come to see what the buzz was about.
I became increasingly nervous and excited as my turn to enter the first mirrored room approached. What if it was disappointing, simply an overhyped selfie prop? As I entered the first room, tiny, flashing kaleidoscopic lights reflected around me as far as I could see. I didn’t take a single photo. It didn’t feel right, and I had to experience it as personally as I could.
Each mirrored room felt vastly different and as exhilarating as the first. I took a couple of photos in most of them, but the twenty seconds felt significantly longer when I was unimpeded by a camera. In one of Kusama’s most famous rooms, titled “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins,” no cameras were allowed. For the twenty seconds, I looked up, down, sideways, forward… I realized that no matter where I looked there was no way to escape seeing myself. It was an obvious revelation, maybe, considering that the walls were mirrors, but it left a long-lasting impression on me. I tried, knowing that I couldn’t, to see past and around myself—I so desperately wanted to see a never-ending landscape of yellow pumpkins and blinking lights uninterrupted by my being. For that reason, I enjoyed the mirrored spaces that weren’t walk-in rooms. In “Love Forever,” viewers had to stick their head into the window of a mirrored room. I could look down and up into endless lights without the obstruction of my body’s reflection.
Leaving the exhibit I thought, maybe that’s what Yayoi Kusama was expressing: the inability of the human mind to conceive the idea of eternity without humans. On the car ride home, I tried to imagine a post-human world. Maybe robots would have taken over, or climate change would have destroyed all traces of human intelligence. I tried to visualize the concept of forever—an infinite ocean, places beyond our galaxy...a heaven? But it is nearly impossible to understand eternity or a human-less future, especially if we aren’t part of it. It’s an egotistical flaw of the human brain.
Maybe Kusama’s mirrors show us that we can’t look far into the future—our reflections will always anchor us in the present.