“Play With Me”, the Performance Artist Mariko Mori

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“Play With Me”, the Performance Artist Mariko Mori

Mariko Mori is a multidisciplinary Japanese artist whose work explores identity, both human and alien, the discrepancies between utopia and reality, and our universal shared consciousness, through performance, video, photography and sculpture.

Born into a wealthy family in Tokyo in 1967, her first experience performing was as a young girl in a school play, for which she made her own costume and remembers the experience of pretending to be someone else. At 16 she became a professional model. The experience of being photographed was very formative, and influenced the way she later approached her artwork, often putting herself on camera. She attended Bunka Fashion College in her home city, and had others take photos of herself modeling the clothes she made.

Her first piece of performance art, “Play With Me” (1994), toyed with the idea that a model’s job is to be an unemotional object of desire for the viewer. She wore a sexualized cyborg costume and a long blue wig and stood outside a Tokyo toy store, suggesting a connection between herself and the other plastic figurines inside. Another early work had her dress up as an alien who had just arrived on earth, interacting with people on the Tokyo subway. And in “Tea Ceremony” and “Love Hotel” (both 1994), she continued to play with Japanese stereotypes of women in submissive roles.

Mori decided to leave Japan and move to London in 1988 to study art, and then to New York in 1992, where she felt she might have more opportunity to express herself and explore her individuality away from Japanese culture. But in her work, she has always drawn from that heritage, especially traditional eastern spirituality. She mediates that tradition with influences from western art history and culture, as well as her interest in technology. For “Esoteric Cosmos” (1996-98) she created a series of images that depict different aspects of the four natural elements, picturing herself as a levitating goddess.

Lately she has removed herself from the frame, and instead invited her viewers to directly engage with her large-scale sculptural installations. In “Wave UFO,” three participants can enter a capsule where their brain waves are read, interpreted visually and projected in the same space. She draws on the Buddhist principle that all people are connected, and thus sets out to connect us all, just three people at a time.

Her work has been exhibited at the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

by Molly Finnegan

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