“I transformed my trauma into art.”
— Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama was born in 1929 in Japan. Since childhood, she suffered from visual and aural hallucinations. Her childhood was traumatic, wedged between her parents. Kusama’s mother forced her to spy on her father and his lovers. Kusama describes that “because my mother was very angry it made even the idea of sex very traumatic for me. My work is always about overcoming that bad experience. […] I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieves my illness is to keep creating art. I followed the thread of art and somehow discovered a path that would allow me to live.” Known worldwide for her exhibitions that challenge space and perception (and also look really good as backdrops for Instagram photos), Kusama has won the Asahi Prize, the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres , and 18th Praemium Imperiale award for painting amongst others. She was the subject of Near Equal Yayoi Kusama: I Adore Myself, a documentary film by Takako Matsumoto as well another documentary Infinity by director Heather Lenz. As detailed by the Guggenheim Museum, one of Kusama’s most important bodies of work—Infinity Nets, all-white, patterned, monochromatic paintings, allude to her hallucinations of being overcome by endless netting. Since 1977, she has voluntarily lived in a psychiatric asylum in Tokyo across the street from her studio.
Here’s Kusama’s description of her work routine from her autobiography Infinity Net:
“Life in the hospital follows a fixed schedule. I retire at nine o’clock at night and wake up the next morning in time for a blood test at seven. At ten o’clock each morning I go to my studio and work until six or seven in the evening. In the evening, I write. These days I am able to concentrate fully on my work, with the result that since moving to Tokyo I have been extremely prolific.”
To follow Kusama’s routine, I woke at 6:10AM this morning. Five more minutes, I thought, reaching for my phone. I blinked up, and it seemed some kind of bug was floating above my eyes. Blink, blink. A spider, on a thread, an inch from my face persuaded me out of bed without my five extra minutes. So, I showered, dressed, looked for spider, didn’t find it, made coffee.
Kusama’s work day starting at 10AM meant that I had time. An hour to journal, time to read some poems by Louise Gluck, Cynthia Manick, Nisaa Pender. Time for a couple work things, an email, a brief finance review, leftovers as breakfast. I washed my french press, cleared off my desk, made my bed, gave a friend outfit advice for a not-date. I even updated my computer with the latest software. Huzzah.
It’s now 10:06AM, and here I am, on the page! Today’s focus is my poetry manuscript/s. Basically, they require organization because I have a few dozen documents all over the place, so the goal today is to organize, narrow the foci, and clean up my 2020 poems document as well (and probably funnel/edit some of the poems into manuscript/s).
I’ll finish the work day with The Girlhood Poetry Series featuring some of my favorite singers/poets. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Starfruit Project which “supports radical healing and brilliant growth through creative writing and performance programs that center queer and trans people of color.” Sounds like a pretty great organization if you are looking for a way to give!
I ended up clearing/cleaning computer desktop for a couple hours… still working on that, but I had to break for an hour for some work things. Walked a bit while on a call. Now back, added some photos and quotes to this piece. I found a quote I really liked that Kusama said, so I slated that toward this other project I’m working on (stay tuned). Worked on that other project for a couple hours. Killed a giant spider (maybe Mummy or Daddy of Wake Up Spider?). Now, I will turn back to organizing those files. I’ll come back here to finish this piece before the reading tonight, and voila!
“My art was made to change people’s minds. I hope that it can make the world more peaceful.”
— Yayoi Kusama
When I look at Kusama’s work like the Chandelier of Grief above, I feel that kind of sinking poetry release sigh. You know the one at readings when a poet iterates a slamming line, and you just feel the appreciation of it in your body. That’s what I feel when I look at so many of her pieces. I was not very familiar with her work when I dove into her schedule today. That’s part of the joy of exploring the daily paths of these various artists; the revelation of layers, whether it’s from what they created or from the lives they lived.
As with most of these Day in the Life of pursuits, I found moments where I kind of trailed off in different directions than I intended. I felt like I specified my goals for the day, but somehow this session is nearly over and some things are left undone. Maybe these day in the life in posts require extra prepwork, like really laying out the writing tasks, so I can immediately jump into them. I also wonder about these daily rituals for these artists and writers. Auden sounded totally type A, but did all of them really work so rigidly where their minds or eyes or mind’s eye never wandered? I think I’m a wanderer by nature (and nurture), so I think for me it comes out as part of the process. I’m not sure if that part of me can be removed (and I’m not sure I’m dedicated to removing it). Do any of you have specific artistic rituals that you adhere to? Do you find them necessary to create? Let me know in the comments below!
Love and light,
“A Day in the Life of…” [artist/writer] is me trying to adhere to the schedule, routine, modes of life of artists/writers. It’s a fun way to feature some of the most influential artists of past and present. Many of the routines/schedules I’ve learned from Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work and his corrective sequel Daily Rituals: Women at Work, both of which I highly recommend as well as the interview I conducted with Mason Currey for Publisher’s Weekly which can be found here.