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The Incredible Lightness of Being Mariko Mori


In Venice, Mariko Mori’s spectacular art UFO is a hit among visitors to the Biennial. Welcome on board: there’s enough room for three passengers at a time in the Japanese multi-media artist’s shiny silver "Wave UFO," a huge tear-shaped object that employs computer-animated video projections to transport them through a spiritual cosmos – a welcome dose of relaxing wellness for art enthusiasts stressed out by the Biennial. Before leaving for Venice, Cheryl Kaplan met with Mariko Mori in her adopted home, New York.



Mariko Mori
Photo: David Sims


The sliding doors part. Mariko Mori is in white, wearing a skirt and jacket that’s just shy of a straight jacket. The outfit has been designed by a friend of hers and is a perfect counterpoint for Mori’s dark hair as it slopes and loops upwards at the side of her face. Her whole studio is white, including a series of sculpted elliptical spheres that hover diligently and are organized in a row of pedestals. When Mariko Mori enters the room, it’s more like an ambassador from space slipping in to check the control panels. Mori takes a seat opposite me at a square table. There are small round pink and white cookies that look like marbles, a white bowl with green tea is set nearby. In a day, Mori will be leaving for Venice where her work, Wave UFO, will be seen at the Biennale in the Arsenale.



Tea Ceremony III, 1994,
Courtesy of the artist and Deitch Projects

Her drawings, paintings, animations, videos, and airport-sized sculptures have addressed everything from reincarnation to cyber-pop. Her work is magical and tough-minded. She creates a fusion of landscapes often populated by various versions of herself sometimes duplicated across an unsettled terrain, as in the photograph Burning Desire, 1996-98. One of her most famous works, Tea Ceremony III, 1995, finds Mori stationed outside an office building in Japan, trying to serve tea to indifferent businessmen in a get-up that could only come via Mars. Still, she is the perfect stewardess.

At first, Mori’s ability to conjure may seem like no more than a sleight of hand or the extreme trickster side of a Cindy Sherman constantly in motion. But when all settles down, Mori is the knowing guide, ever secure at the helm of an incredible array of collaborators, including computer specialists she has worked with to create a 3-D video system for her work Nirvana. Her use of science, technology, and art is tempered by a keen and unwavering intuition. Since 1993, Mariko Mori has exhibited her work in major museums worldwide. She is part of the Deutsche Bank Collection.



Wave Ufo, 1999-2002,
Installation view at Kunsthaus Bregenz, 2003
Courtesy of the artist and Deitch Projects


Cheryl Kaplan: Your installations combine intimacy with public exposure, especially in "Wave UFO" which is showing now in Venice. In Japanese culture, external forms of agreement are often deceiving.

Mariko Mori: Even I misread the code. I’ve become a bit westernized. If you go to an old city like Kyoto, on the surface you don’t see this, it’s so interwoven, it’s almost impossible to decode. In a traditional culture, it’s not about yes or no, but a communication that’s intuitive. The sign is never linguistic, you have to feel what’s there. It’s an in-grown society. There’s no individualism as there is in the West. Shinto , the ancient Japanese religion, is based on a local spirit or god that lives in nature. The worship of nature creates a social dynamic. If you lose something in a natural disaster, you accept things.




Miko No Inori (Video still), 1996
Courtesy of the artist and Deitch Projects


Your drawings are very delicate, yet you also use charts and graphs. How do you plot your work? It seems intuitive, but planned.

The drawing is a fragment, like a note about how I felt. It’s an emotional path. It begins when I get an idea, it doesn't all come at once, and then I think over what needs to be dug out.


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