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The Art of the Flame-Out

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An exchange with the artist, by way of e-mail and translator, from her studio in Japan.

New York was such an important place for you. What are your impressions of it now?
I lived in New York until 1973. After that, I have been traveling back and forth. Among the new generation growing up in New York, Paris, and London, New York is the top class.

You once wrote about returning after a number of years to find the creative energy in the city drained away.
Whenever an energy is lost, another is born. This fresh energy creates the base to make new things. My time in New York in the sixties was a period of that sort.

How is Japan to you today? What is it like to be creative there?
The Japanese people are now suffering because of the incompetent politicians. Natural disasters continue, and the country is socially confused. But it is at times like these that you need a splendid point of view. Though the world is facing difficulties, there are many people who try to find pleasure in life and make efforts to create a future with a new vitality.

Why have you decided to remain in the open ward for this long?
I write novels and poems, and I also paint in the hospital. They are my saviors.

Does it bother you that your work is sometimes seen through the lens of mental illness?
I’m not an outsider artist. Although I’m living in a hospital, I buy my own land and have built my own building. And I am now getting ready to make a museum.

I love how you once wrote, “The devil is the enemy of art and even more so its ally.” What does that mean to you today?
As I slightly feel death is approaching, I risk my life for creation and try not to waste my time.They all achieved a great success and gave many people a strong impression.

Do you regret any of those acts?
I have never regretted it. I still want to stage my happenings, but for now the priority is production of artworks. I am constantly producing new paintings, sculptures, installations, and there is no time to waste. My activities, from the earlier happenings to the recent works and projects, have drawn a great deal of attention and the media loved them. And these facts made Kusama a top star.

What happened to all of your hippie friends?
They are working as writers and designers.

Why do you think your happenings never took hold in Japan?
Japan was very conservative back then, and my avant-garde ideas were defeated completely. I have struggled against these adversities with the power of my cultivated art.

Do you think that if you’d stayed in New York, you could have surpassed Warhol?
I had already exceeded him during my stay in New York in the sixties. He lived near me and appropriated my ideas, only he was too late because I had already realized them. We don’t hear his name now so much in Japan.

This show was recently at the Tate Modern in London. What did you learn from that?
That what I’ve been doing was historically right.


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