Mariko Mori is arguably one of the most popular contemporary Japanese artists. Born in Tokyo in 1967, her work aims to integrate traditional Japanese philosophy in a global society. Mori's work is multi-media, but is most well-known for her work in video, performance, photography, and installation. Utilizing universal themes; her pieces explore questions such as what happens after death, what lies beneath the visible world, or what is the nature of time? Her work has been exhibited in the Venice Biennale, the Royal Academy of the Arts in London, the Japan Society of New York, The Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, New York and Chicago, and several other institutions.
Views on Eastern philosophy
Mariko Mori's interview with curator Mary Jane Jacob in Budda Mind in Contemporary Art investigates how Buddhism and other Eastern ideas have influenced her art. Mori explains that she first experienced Buddhism in daily life while growing up in Japan, and later on studied Buddhism and Shinto formally as she attended school in London. As a child, she was taught two lessons she considers integral to Buddhist philosophy: respect for all living beings and the need for balance and harmony:
"In the West, you may not think that the plants are living beings of the same quality as us, but we look at the plants and insects and are told that the life is precious - the same as human beings. In Shinto, trees and stones are appointed as objects of great spirits. Another aspect within our culture we call wa, meaning harmony. It is very important to keep harmony within society; harmony is a very important element in life. Also, there is chawa, which means balance that needs to be maintained in nature."
Mori asserts that she did not want to use Buddhist iconography in her art to convert the viewer to the religion (which most religions in the East do not require a conversion to practice anyway), but to help point out the harmful aspects of a capitalistic, global society initiated by Western culture. Mori also reminds us that indigenous cultures and religions hold these values as well, such as the Native American or Aborigional peoples. She feels that any person today could benefit from ideas of being in harmony with nature, seeing humans as a part of the ecosystem but not the center. This not only has ecological benefits, but inner spiritual gifts:
"In every-day life we are embedded in so much human-centered thinking, but there are many different living beings... we should not exploit nature. It's there, available for everyone... It's not only something for Buddhists. I think this is wisdom that has been known for thousands of years, but we forget."
When discussing the process of her work, Mori talks frequently about collaboration and not resisting the limitations. Her performances and installations often require the help of specialized professionals in computer technology, engineering, and architecture. She asserts that the energy of every person is in the final piece. When Mori talks about non-resistance, she recognizes that something will inevitably go wrong in the artistic process because everything has limitations and there is not only one way of doing things. Her strategy for overcoming limitations is acceptance and letting go:
"...within the process I have to accept things, not force something. When you accept things, then things will come. You cannot deliver when it is not ready... So, in a way, alhtough I direct the production, it's more about accepting. The more I accept, the closer I get to a complete work. the process is a learning experiment for me - not just about making work, but about life, too. Respecting and collaborating, accepting and sharing... these processes are very important aspects in producing the work."
Works of interest: Rebirth exhibition
This is my personal favorite exhibition by Mariko Mori. This video was released by the Japanese Society of New York, during her solo exhibition there in 2014. I enjoy the intuitive, internal response I have to seeing the work, knowing what it means but not being able to explain verbally. And as I learn more about what each piece means - the history, symbolism and compassion that goes into it - the more I can appreciate. I also find it amazing the way she incorporates the religion of ancient peoples in Japan called Jomon, with modern technology such as video animation and LED lighting. The range of media used is also quite impressive - from sculpture, video, drawing and installation. This is one of the only exhibitions I've found that the artist has explicitely said the work is about life cycles and the cyclical nature of time. You've read this far, so make sure to watch the video above to see the beautiful exhibition!
Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art, Mary Jane Jacobs
"Mariko Mori", Sean Kelly Gallery <http://www.skny.com/artists/mariko-mori>