- Rikki Osborne
Infinity Staring Back At Me: Yayoi Kusama and the Link between Genius and Mental Illness
Yayoi Kusama has lived, voluntarily, in Japan’s Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill since 1973. She claims that her mental illness began as a young girl when she began hallucinating the dots, nets and flowers which have been the overarching theme in her paintings and sculptures. Like so many other infamous artists, her works of art seem to be intricately intertwined with her mental illness; living in an open psychiatric ward, building a studio across the street and commuting to and fro each morning as if it were a job at McDonalds. And yet her Mirror/Infinity instillations use a complex blend of flashing lights, mirrored glass and neon colored orbs that, together, create the surreal illusion of standing inside a space that never ends. Unlike many less fortunate patients with mental disorders, Kusama believes her illness is the primary fuel for her creativity: "The doctors have said that it is because I have been able to channel it in this way, it has kept it in check and that is also precisely what many people love about my art." If there are indeed benefits to being crazy, as she suggests, certainly the ability to produce replicas of infinity must be at the top of the list.
Someone once said that, "the distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success.” There is something wildly romantic about the notion of creative genius and madness. Delusions, hallucinations, bizarre mental connections that, when formed into a piece of art, become insightful revelations; reflections of reality through the eye of imagination. Genius adds something to the world; grace, transcendence, beauty, duality - daily reminders of exalted states of being that is so often overlooked in the average world. And so we, as a culture, both now and throughout history, have embraced the idea that to create great art one must also suffer terrible mental torment. Somehow this must soften the reality that most of us will never reach the creative heights of, say, Van Gogh or Woolf; it makes it easier to explain away their incredible works of art as the side effect of a faulty mind. We certainly have countless examples throughout history that point to such a correlation; it is easier for us to believe that the ability to create high art eludes us because we (thankfully!) aren’t crazy, rather than accept that perhaps we might just have dull minds or lack the artistic discipline to ever manifest a novel or fresco on our own merit. But for every example of mad genius you find, and yes, they date back as far as the days of ancient Greece, there are just as many examples of perfectly sane and well functioning artists that defy our need to classify genius as a byproduct of illness. And yet, if you truly make the attempt to pick out the greatest geniuses in the world, chances are very good that they suffered from some form of mental illness: Einstein, Tesla, Hemingway, Sexton, Plath, Kahlo, Cobain – all suffered tremendously for their art, and not all of them survived it.
Michelangelo? Check. He was said to suffer from a form of autism, avoiding human interaction, never bathing, and obsessing over his work to the point of mania. Lord Byron? Check. He tried to give his pet bear a fellowship at Cambridge and spent day after day crouched down in a make-believe fort, forcing his companions to play “war” with him to the point of exhaustion. Aristotle’s pupil Theophrastus is recorded having asked: “Why is it that all men who are outstanding in philosophy, poetry, or the arts are melancholic?” Aristotle replies by confirming this state of being in historical figures such as the philosophers Empedocles, Plato, and Socrates. Empedocles, once a great mind of distinct genius, went on to create his own religion and later died by throwing himself into the crater of Mount Etna, telling his followers that no fire was hot enough to touch him. He, according to the history books, turned out to be quite wrong about that.
The great Bard himself, William Shakespeare, seemed all too aware of this connection as he writes in A Midsummer Night's Dream: “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet/ Are of imagination all compact/ One sees more devils than vast hell can hold;/ That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,/ Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt./ The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,/ Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven/ Such tricks hath strong imagination...” But this passage brings to mind the question of whether it be art or poetry, high mathematics or science, music or philosophy - are these symptoms of this madness, or a means to quell it? Is the genius product of mental illness a signpost or a soothing balm to quiet the pain?
Carl Jung was a firm believer in using art to tap in to one’s inner demons; he treated numerous psychiatric patients over the course of two decades between 1926 and 1945 with an early form of art therapy. Jung’s patients would draw and color their own unique mandalas in order to explore the mind’s unconscious symbols believed to be keys to unlocking greater understanding of the self. At the center of this therapy is an exploration of how the mind works; the path our brains have travelled from pre-verbal survival down through today’s highly complex structures of rational thought, dream language, and animal instinct. To quote Jung, “The "squaring of the circle" is one of the many archetypal motifs which form the basic patterns of our dreams and fantasies. But it is distinguished by the fact that it is one of the most important of them from the functional point of view. Indeed, it could even be called the archetype of wholeness.” Reaching for this return to wholeness seems to be a frequently cited reason many of these geniuses create in the first place. Nietzsche, who famously suffered a severe mental collapse he never rebounded from, was quoted as saying, “We have art to save ourselves from the truth.”
In many cases, art can serve to transform traumatic experiences into something the patient can have control over. Yayoi Kusama has repeated reported that the repeating phallic shapes she covered her sculptures with are her way of working through the childhood trauma of her abusive mother forcing her at age four to spy on her father with his many mistresses. Her earliest saved piece of art was made at the age of ten; a picture of her mother covered over and over in layers of what would become her trademark dots. But the periods of her most extreme psychosis and her most productive periods of creation, as with many artists, do not synch. Just as Woolf could “not write a single line” during the thick of her depressions, Kusama gained her artistic notoriety after a move to New York in her twenties on the advice of Georgia O’Keefe. There, mentally sound and facing a whole new world, she engaged in her most productive artistic period of her life, organizing performance pieces such as the Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead at the MOMA where she painted her dots on naked people having sex in front of the museum in 1969, and expanding on her incredibly successful installation pieces. It was here that she produced her first spellbinding Net paintings; huge canvases up to 33 feet in width, covered entirely by rhythmic undulations of small, thickly painted loops; gaining for herself a wide fan base of acolytes and followers ready to paint spots on any surface they could find. But soon the shadows of her illness returned, and she fell into a dark, dark place.
By 1973 Kusama could no longer function on her own, and was sent back to Japan to seek help for her hallucinations and failing health. It was then that she checked herself in to the mental institution that she has never since checked out of. Whether this was a necessary measure or a precautionary one is hard to say; but such a life has allowed her to remain an artist - a gift that might have ended as it has for so many others, with suicide. Many times she has said “if it not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago.” Now, at 83 years old, Kusama has a lifetime of work that is being showcased this year at the Tate Museum, and she has left her safe and protected life in Japan for London, the first such trip in many, many years. In 2011, she collaborated with Marc Jacobs to create a line of ready-to-wear pieces for Louis Vuitton. Perhaps this new return to boldness somehow correlates with the fact that she “feels death is coming soon” and so, with nothing to fear, she is once again milking the fascination the art world has always held for her.
Science has yet to show definitely any direct link between mental illness and creative genius, though there are some studies that show correlations between dopamine receptors, creativity, and some mental disorders. As we continue to decode our genetic makeup, it will certainly lead us to a definitive conclusion one way or the other about the long-held belief that the two go hand in hand. Mental illness can certainly lead a person to new and unexpected pathways and connections that the average mind cannot make. In this way, these artistic geniuses suffer tremendously, but also benefit society by showing us the unseen potential in our own lives – to infinity, and sometimes even beyond.
March 29, 2012
For Which the Art was Made:
Why Art Space Matters
Can a piece of art ever truly be independent of the wall or space in which it is displayed? Most people, I believe, would argue yes: A Rothko hanging on the wall of a CEO’s office is still as mesmerizing as one displayed in the pristine gallery space of the MOMA, right? Well, the twelve artists being featured in this year’s Living Walls exhibition might argue differently. According to the non-profit’s website, “Living Walls seeks to promote, educate, and change perspectives toward public space in our communities via street art.” The artists are commissioned to paint building sized murals on the walls of some of Atlanta’s barest street corners; turning brick and concrete into dynamic, colorful reasons for the people of Atlanta to stop and notice the vibrancy of the city they live in. The idea is to stimulate discourse between the people of Atlanta and the artists who create here: to challenge and question what it means, exactly, to interact with art outside of its expected locations such as museums, galleries, and private collections. Living Walls takes the process directly to the people.
My favorite artwork so far in the lineup features two artists, Gaia and Nanook, who took an 85 year old building on the corner of Edgewood and Boulevard to be the canvas for their 3 story tall installation called “Sunrise of Edgewood Ave.” The mural, painted in vivid oranges and yellows, superimposes the sun rising inside the proud and dignified face of an African American man, exploring all at the once the cultural heartbeat of Atlanta’s history as well as our own unique shared memory of what that means. The flush of sunrise paint colors invoke the promise of the human condition; reminding us of our interconnectedness, our reasons to love not only our city but each other as well. The Living Walls series will continue to feature two new murals a month until the culmination in August that will feature a conference, parties, art walks and more.
In comparison, the Kibbee Gallery, located in the Poncey-Highland area of Atlanta, also works to give representation to alternative art spaces, but does so by utilizing traditional gallery walls in unique ways. For example, it is not unheard of to see an artist’s instillation work draped around and across the 70’s style fireplace that makes up a portion of the gallery walls. By making any space available to art, the gallery surprises and challenges the usual notions that art is something that only belongs when hanging at eye-level on a flat surface. Here the pieces drape upward along the suburban stairway, creating movement and interest in a way that blends the sublimation of art with the ordinary movement of our day to day lives.
The Kibbee Gallery space contrasts beautifully with our beloved High Museum, whose striking geometric architecture gives rise to the promise within of art that circles upward, culminating in the featured art show, such as the current “Picasso to Warhol” exhibit. Upcoming for the Kibbee Gallery is an exhibition of a collective of printmakers called “Echoes: Adventures in Printmaking.” Curated by printmaker Joe Tsambiras, the show “is about repetition, which is a large part of the printmaking process. Also it is about sound and vibrations…love, wounds, beauty, movement.” It opens with a reception party on April 7 at 6pm at the gallery space behind Fellini’s Pizza on Ponce.
It was difficult for me, after visiting these spaces, to not long for this same exultation of daily life once I walked back out into the bland, grey parking lots. Between this and the “Living Walls” murals, I had to fight the urge to spray paint my own car, tie kudzu into my hair, and walk with a boombox playing Ginsburg’s “Howl” on repeat - just to take part and share in all this beauty. It brings rise to the question WHY, exactly, do we as a culture feel the need to quarantine our art behind walls that not everyone have the time or money to take part in? Why can’t art be as much of day to day life as fire hydrants, no-parking signs, cracks in the sidewalk? Of this, John Berger writes in Ways of Seeing, “The visual arts have always existed within a certain preserve; originally this preserve was magical or sacred. But it was also physical: it was the place, the cave, the building, in which, or for which, the work was made”. Both Living Walls and the Kibbee Gallery seek to challenge what makes a space sacred enough for works of art; both succeeded in convincing me that so long as art is around, every place we look can be sacred.
- Murmurs of Earth
Wednesday, 19 May 2010 20:03
“This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.”
— U.S. President Jimmy Carter
If you were to attempt to describe our world, our lives, to someone (or something) that had never experienced it, how would you do it? What could you possibly say that would encompass the incredible beauty, the savagery, the elegance, the wildness? Think of attempting to convey the strangeness of a giraffe, the sublimity of Beethoven’s genius, the brutality from the thousands of massacres that humankind has been both witness to and participant in. Think of what falling in love feels like. Think of the giant sequoias, strong and silent for thousands of years, and then think of the logging industry clear-cutting entire forests of them in a day. The grace hidden in a sincere apology. The hope and joy of birth; the anguish of burying our dead.
It would take a lifetime.
So please do imagine my delight to have stumbled upon one of humankind’s attempts to do just this. A scattering of months before I was born, NASA launched two Voyager spacecraft into our solar system. Carried inside each of the craft was a single gold phonograph record intended as a little hello to aliens, or future humanity, so that in the case that we are all long gone by then, there will be a record of what this life was like, exactly. The craft left our solar system sometime in 2008, but still have 4.35 light-years to go before they reach an even remote possibility of being discovered.
The golden records contain humanity’s attempt at transcendence: the sound of animals, thunder, fire and rain, the intonation of a kiss, greetings in 50 different languages, music from across the globe. And, our heartbeat. What better way to communicate our frailty, our strength, than that soft lub-dub, lub-dub of the human heart? There are selections from Bach, Beethoven, even Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” There is a Peruvian wedding song, a Pygmy girl’s initiation rites, Chinese rivers, Australian bird songs. Allegedly, Carl Sagan desperately wanted to include the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” but EMI would not allow it. Handwritten, perfectly, fittingly, on each record is this sentence: “To the makers of music — all worlds, all times”
What songs would you include today? Imagine our greeting now that we could easily include images, video. What would we show them – a flower sprouting from a crack in the sidewalk, the brilliance of Tokyo? Celebrity Apprentice, maybe. We are so vast, so tiny, so exceptional, and so completely insignificant. Goddamn, we are nothing if not painfully, exquisitely…alive.
Here are a few songs included on the record that I sincerely hope find their way to someone’s ears, someday.
Beethoven – String Quartet No. 13 In B Flat, Opus 130, Cavatina
Blind Willie Johnson – Dark Was The Night
Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar – Jaat Kahan Ho
Navajo Night Chant
posted by rikki via http://www.seamstressfortheband.org/
- Ahimsa House, Inc.
For Immediate Release
For more information
contact: Rikki Osborne
Abused Dog Needs New Leg
Domestic violence affects all family members, even pets.
Tiny Tim*, a 15 month old puppy, was shot, beaten, and kicked so hard that his leg was
shattered in two places--all in front of a house full of children. The perpetrator? Their father,
who wanted to teach his wife and kids a lesson.
Tiny Tim needs major surgery to save his leg. It is broken in two places, and his
hip has degenerated. This type of surgery typically costs between $2,000 and
$3,500. Ahimsa House is sending out a plea to the Atlanta community to help
raise the funds to pay for Tiny Tim’s surgery.
Tiny Tim was taken in by Ahimsa House, the first and only animal shelter in Georgia created
specifically to act as a support service to the domestic violence shelters in metro-Atlanta
and Athens. Rikki Osborne, Vice President and Spokesperson for Ahimsa House says,
“The people of Atlanta have begun to understand that animal abuse and human violence
are undeniably linked. Abusers use family pets as a means of controlling their victims and
keeping them silent about the abuse in their household.”
Sadly, Tiny Tim’s situation is not unusual. “When any member of the family--including pets--
is abused, the rest of the household is at risk, and so is the community at large,” says Emily
Christie, President of Ahimsa House. “Violence towards animals is criminal behavior. A
person who abuses an animal is statistically more likely to commit other violent crimes.”
Please help Tiny Tim by attending Ahimsa House’s press conference.
Details on the event:
What: Press Conference with Ahimsa House Representatives, members
of Georgia Legal Professionals for Animals, veterinarians, and Tiny Tim
Where: Cat Clinic of Roswell
1002 Canton Street
Roswell, GA 30075
When: Friday, June 24, 2:30 pm
*Tiny Tim’s name has been changed to protect the family’s identity.
- Ahimsa House, Inc.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information, contact:
UNIQUE LOCAL SHELTER RECEIVES NATIONAL RESCUE OF THE YEAR AWARD
NEW YORK, NY.- FEBRUARY 11, 2006
Ahimsa House, Georgia’s first and only shelter dedicated to the animal victims of
domestic violence, was honored by Pedigree® on February 11, 2006 with the award
“Rescue Organization of the Year” for 2005. Ahimsa House was founded in 2004 as a
support service for the domestic violence shelters in metro-Atlanta and Athens.
Pedigree® honored Ahimsa House at a black tie gala hosted at the Museum of
Natural History in Manhattan. Ahimsa House President and founder Emily Christie
and Vice President Rikki Osborne accepted the award on behalf of the organization. “It
was a great honor to receive national recognition for Ahimsa House. Hopefully this
award will help bring local and world wide exposure to the very real problem of animal
cruelty and it’s link to human violence” says Christie.
International film actress Minnie Driver also honored the award winners with a speech
given at the event on the importance of animal welfare and rescue. The gala dinner
was given in conjunction with the annual Westminster Dog Show by one of its largest
sponsors and donors, Pedigree Food for Dogs. “We were speechless when we
learned we were chosen as Rescue of the Year by Pedigree, “ beamed
spokesperson Osborne, “It is our belief that no woman should have to choose
between her own safety and that of her pet’s; hopefully this award will help us spread
the word to all of Atlanta and Athens that we are here and ready to help.”
For more information on Ahimsa House, please visit www.ahimsahouse.org or call
404-518-5516 or 678-640-6706. Pictures of the event are also available. Donations to
the tax deductible organization can be made at the website or by mail to P.O. Box 3495
Alpharetta, GA 30023.
- Cat Power - Live at The Tabernacle 06/15/08
By Rikki O.
Cat Power is one of those musicians that you hear about first from a friend; it took at least three of mine telling me that I should really check out her music before I finally gave her a listen. This was sometime before The Greatest was released, and I have been a love struck fan ever since. On Sunday, June 15, 2008 I finally had the chance to not only see her live for the first time, but hallelujah, I was granted a photo pass as well - which means that for the first three songs of the evening, there would be nothing between Chan and me but my camera and her smoky voice filling the space. Held in the recently rebuilt Tabernacle (following a nasty hit from a twister that shut it down for a few months), the show was filled up with eager Cat Power devotees. Opening for Cat Power was the brother/sister band The Dexter Romweber Duo (who is raved about by none other than one half of another famous duo - yep, Jack White of The White Stripes); they treated us with a set of bluesy rockabilly straight out of the Athen's underground and held the audience enraptured until the time finally came for Chan to play her set.
She walked onto the stage wearing a loose button up shirt with a tie draped over it and opened her set with "Ramblin (Wo)Man" - possibly my very favorite track from Jukebox. I was curious to see how her live shows may have evolved since her early days of extreme stage fright and emotional anxiety (often fueled by heavy drinking), but it was clear that time and sobriety has imbued Chan with a stage presence that is both eager to please and perfectly confident in her abilities. She said something to the effect of "Forget New York, forget Paris, no other place can make me as nervous as playing Atlanta". Completely understandable, as Atlanta is her hometown - oh, the pressure! But everyone showed her complete and total love and adoration; though she stalked the stage back and forth for the whole show, it was visible as the pacing turned from being caused by nerves to being a way for her to connect deeper and deeper with everyone in the audience. The keyboard player from The Dirty Delta Blues Band (who are backing her up for the tour and the new album) mentioned how she used to work at Fellini's Pizza, no wonder she left Atlanta for New York! In the middle of her cover of Janis Joplin's "A Woman Left Lonely", she spotted me taking her photo and she leaned forward and gave me a blinding smile and a cute little wave; had I not been so star struck I might have used that opportunity to get some amazing shots, but instead I just stood there and mouthed the words "I LOVE YOU!!" to her instead. Smart cookie, me.
Most notable songs for me were her covers of "Silver Stallion" originally by The Highwaymen, "Blue" by Joni Mitchell and two of her originals off Jukebox, "Metal Heart" (which is actually a cover of her own song off an earlier album, and "Song For Bobby", her ode to Bob Dylan. She also performed a chilling rendition of "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, which is not on the new album, but was recorded and may end up a B-side somewhere down the road. At the end of the show, she came out minus the band holding a handful of flowers that she passed out to everyone in the audience. Someone once said "You can't go home again.
- Paris Luna – City Lights
by Rikki O.
"The moon's an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun."
The buttery moon that illuminates nighttime Paris streets has been the subject of countless paintings, songs, and poems; no doubt, endless drunken lyrics howled up in effigy have ranged from the perverse and strange to wild and breathtaking. The moon has been blamed for crimes of passion, sudden labors, lunacy, even PMS. One thing it has never been accused of, however, is being boring.
Taking a name, an intentional name, imbibes the taker with the qualities of that in which has been chosen. Paris Luna, therefore, wants to invoke from their listeners an air of romantic mystery, of endless possibility and lyrical magic, of ideological absolutes and that unfathomable je ne sais quoi.
Lucky for us, on their new album, City Lights, they do not disappoint.
Paris Luna hails not from France, but much closer to my own heart, in Carrolton, Georgia. The current incarnation was formed in early 2006, fronted by the luminescent Paris Luna on vocals, keys and guitar. Deep, rich layers of sound compose intricate and mature melodies with a grown up fusion of jazz, folk, and pop. While there is nothing exactly groundbreaking to be found in City Lights, the themes that are explored (heartbreak, longing) are universal enough to appeal to everyone who has ever gazed upon the moon - to some degree at least.
Like a waning moon expanding into fullness, much of City Lights sounds perfectly primed for some teen reality series on MTV. See hit-ready "Having a Hard Time" which clearly evokes 90's group The Sundays or "Lately" and "Sad Goodbye (Rescue Me)" both of which ache with adolescent longing and exploration. What is strange to me is that the remaining tracks are remarkably mature and evolved in their emotional and musical range, like my two favorite tracks, the funky "So Unlike Me" and the country tinged "Tell Me Why."
Clearly, it is essential when listening to Paris Luna to understand that the moon never remains in cessation, but instead swells and shrinks according to the whims of gravity. A plight not so different from that of us humans, try as we might to simply make sense of it all, or at least whatever tiny sliver we can.
- Ladies Home Journal - Beauty Ambassador for 2012