Mariko Mori: Rebirth, Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy | Visual arts reviews, news & interviews
Mariko Mori: Rebirth, Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy
New Age baubles, twee drawings and a light-emitting Stonehenge
The Royal Academy’s spacious white galleries at Burlington Gardens are flooded with mystic light and filled with New Age baubles. You are bathed in a trippy purple haze as you enter one gallery which contains a giant glowing pod. The translucent pod is meant to resemble an ancient monolith but instead looks more like an oversized Ikea lamp. The work derives its title, Tom Na H-iu II, from the Celtic “Tom na h-iubhraich” – a site of “spiritual transmigration”. These consist of standing stones intended to guide souls returning to earth after spending 100 years in the spirit world.
The pod installation seems incredibly derivative of James Turrell’s spacey light art, though it’s nowhere near as intense. Turrell creates light installations which physically engulf you: as light changes in intensity and colour you are completely enveloped by its effects. If you can imagine it, it really does feel like you’re having a chemical-free acid trip (picured below: Tom Na H-iu II).
The work is the stuff of hokey crystal-gazing - science mixed with a lot of cosmic mysticism
The LED lights in Mariko Mori’s giant pod are connected to a computer monitoring neutrinos at Tokyo University’s Kamioka Observatory. The pod’s changing light patterns apparently record the presence of these elementary space particles. But whatever the awesome science behind the work, the work itself is the stuff of hokey crystal-gazing - science mixed with a lot of cosmic mysticism, with the exhibition vaguely following the narrative trajectory of the death of a star and the cycles of life, death and rebirth found in Buddhism and Shintoism. Mori is Japanese but has lived most of her adult life in New York, and the cultural mash-up of the ancient and the New Age doesn’t have much subtlety to it.
Other works include Primal Memory, an arrangement of white stones placed on the floor, though the stones are, in fact, made of translucent glass. The stones arranged in the inner circle emit white light. As an object of spiritual contemplation I’m afraid I find it to be just as naff as any plastic Sacred Heart, though since this is contemporary art and not a religious artefact the only thing that might elevate it as a receptacle of belief is a fervent belief in kitsch contemporary art.
Then there’s the mini Stonehenge, Transcircle, in which each “stone” is a different pastel colour which glows in the dark. Art channelled as religious experience, or religious experience channelled as art, is nothing new. Rothko wanted above all for his paintings to communicate something elemental and profound – something like a religious experience. If you are merely moved by the colour relationships in his work then you are, in Rothko’s words, “missing the point”.
You may or may not get any of that from actually looking at a Rothko, but at least we are spared light-emitting replicas of Stonehenge. And there are no crystal pendulums hanging above crystal circles. I could go on - about the ectoplasmic photographs and the twee glittery star drawings - but, enough, you get the picture. None of it bodes well for the RA's contemporary art programme.
- Mariko Mori: Rebirth at the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens until 17 February
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Visual arts
Treasures jostle with texts to explore the art and science of manuscript illumination
Known as a painter of horses, the 18th-century artist captured an entire menagerie
The American who made colour photography an art form
A forgotten Slade alumnus restored to prominence
Fact and fiction coalesce in work by an artist born into an acting dynasty
Not comedy, not documentary and offering some very poor advice
Our man in France guides us through the highlights of the world-famous photo festival
Defined by sexual readings of her flowers and other paintings, the American modernist gets a much-needed retrospective
The first edition of the capital's annual all-night art festival brought light in dark times
An ongoing series of portraits has served as a tonic during difficult times, but its value is more personal than artistic
A glimpse inside artists' collections offers fresh insight into their own work
Magnificent new extension has light and space enough for new art and new visitors