What is the difference between a Yayoi Kusama Infinity Room and another promoted by Facebook?

When advertising chews what art formed in detail, the result is banal and empty

Just over 1 year ago, between September 2014 and January 2015, Infinite Obsession was presented in Mexico, the first retrospective of the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in Latin America. The exhibition came from Argentina, where he broke the attendance records of the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (MALBA) with just over 206 thousand entries in 73 days, thus exceeding the almost 196 thousand visits a sample of Andy received Warhol opened in October 2009. In Mexico the enthusiasm was similar. The Tamayo Museum of Contemporary Art, usually modest in figures, doubled its total assistance from the previous year just 100 days after the inauguration of the Kusama exhibition, which closed with about 335 thousand visitors.

The statistics are undoubtedly surprising for the time, place and circumstances in which we live, where with some frequency there does not seem to be much place or scope for art, let alone for those who academically classify themselves as "modern" or "contemporary". If in itself approaching an artistic expression requires something additional to what we normally have (from curiosity to the necessary references to codify it), in the case of contemporary art the requirement may be even greater, since the concept of art changed substantially throughout the twentieth century but, unlike more canonical art, these notions did not easily move towards the collective imaginary. Almost anyone, without much difficulty, can hear a symphony of Beethoven or look at a Renaissance painting and feel something, be overwhelmed, admired, notice how that monstrous that has authentic art floods and moves him, shows him that the world, humanity, the subject, they are more than we usually see and live, to notice for their effects on our perception that “aura” of which Walter Benjamin wrote with mysticism and for which art impresses us but also deciphers us, baffles us but in a The second moment shows us aspects previously ignored of ourselves and our reality. Without the post-avant-garde art of the early twentieth century lacking this, it is also evident that his searches and the questions he tries to answer have followed other paths, similar only in the shared intention of questioning some aspect of the reality in which we live., criticize it, move it from place to better look at its meaning in its usual position. In this sense, it may be possible to affirm that where art used to move, now it confuses, disturbs, immediately confronts us with one or more questions and not only with its almost molded effect. And that, in art but also in life, is not always easy to handle.

Surprisingly, Kusama's work is halfway between those two ways of experiencing art. Without being simple, it has become affordable for the general public. My impression is that, by chance or because truly Kusama is one of those visionaries of yesteryear, one ahead of his time, part of his work came to coincide with circumstances of our social reality that suddenly made it remarkably current, as if it had been thought just for this moment, as a line that dialogues with aspects of our contemporary reality. In this regard I think, above all, in its facilities that involve a small room whose walls, ceiling and floor are all mirrors, thus creating a place that allows a unique experience and many implications. Spatially it is paradoxical, because it is a small place that nevertheless gives the feeling of spaciousness and even infinity ( Infinity Mirrored Room is the name of the series of installations). Psychologically it can be distressing to be standing in the middle of that same illusion of eternity, in the static contemplation of the self (not aesthetic or ecstatic, but only static), face to face with narcissism and without the possibility of escape, the supposed and so precious iterated individuality until nausea. Mystically, it brings human perception closer to the experience of eternity, dissolution, loneliness, the "cosmic and intimate" experience (as William Grimes wrote in the New York Times a couple of years ago about one of these rooms). Artistically it is the sum of this and the other that each person finds of himself when entering the room. That is the hallmark of authentic art: its multiplicity of meanings, the resistance it offers to apprehension and conceptualization, the ability to make possible an experience that also broadens our own horizons of perception.

It will be said, rightly, that not all people who have entered any of Kusama's rooms have had an experience that goes through those or other signifiers, an old problem of the semiotics of art that wonders if the qualities of a work they are its attributes or if the one who experiences the work is the one who attributes them from their own referents. The most sensible position in this regard would opt for a combination of both: the work of art could be understood as a platform or a board that already has a certain margin of action but as lines that can be followed, less instructions than "suggestions for use", an open game for those who come into contact with the work.

What happens, however, when a work of art is removed from its place in this chain of signifiers to be placed in another, specifically, in the chain of signifiers of the market and consumption?

During these days, a room was also opened temporarily in Mexico City that, although sponsored by Facebook and baptized simply as "Facebook Room", has been tagged in social networks with the hashtag #infinityroom, in clear allusion to the work of Kusama The room is located in the Condesa DF hotel, which has an exclusive reputation, and is associated with the celebration of the Corona Capital music festival. It is a commercial and advertising product that, as seen in the images, had one of its main dissemination strategies in the purchase of “influencers” and celebrities who entered and took a photograph that they later disseminated in their personal profiles. It should be noted that unlike Kusama's rooms, this “Facebook Room” has its own integrated camera, which means that the possibility of experience already has an important change: if Kusama's rooms favor isolation and momentary disappearance of the external reality, in the one of Facebook the presence of the world is guessed in its most intrusive form, an exterior camera, a watchful eye, that Other with a capital letter that lacanianly refers to the attentive look that censors, that takes care that everything is in order, that everything is developed according to what is established. The open play of the work of art then becomes a regulated action with specific guidelines and objectives. The exclusivity of the hotel, the parade of television celebrities, the sponsorship of Facebook, the theft of the concept: everything has its apotheotic culmination in that camera that disguises its surveillance with the shaves of the exhibition and the show. Who is there knows well what to do: pose, smile, show the best angle, think from that moment on the number of likes that the photograph will take. We have mastered that knowledge, it could be said not without irony, because if we did not think and act like that, perhaps we would realize that domination operates just the opposite way.

Anyone who has entered one of Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room may agree with me that doing so feels, in a way, like being thrown into a place where it is not well known what to do, how to act or if something has to be done (especially in the Infinity Mirrored Room-Phalli's Field (Floor Show) (1965), where the door closes and the viewer is alone). The river of selfies that ran on social networks while it lasted Infinite Obsession in Tamayo is the answer to that not knowing what to do, the equivalent of the so-called "nervous laugh" that releases who is in an awkward situation ignored. A great moment of doubt and loss of meaning that is distressing because the general feeling, in almost any situation in everyday life, is that we have to do something, that we have to follow certain parameters, obey instructions, stick to a social code, Respond to expectations, etc.

The "Facebook Room", on the other hand, is at the opposite point of the spectrum: it is the confirmation that we have learned very well the answers that the society of the spectacle and consumption expects to hear from us. And that's the difference.

Author's Twitter: @juanpablocahz