In the Spring, Isis Magazine spoke with Mariko Mori from her studio in Hell's Kitchen, NYC.
IM. Some of your ideas and themes of your work - for example 'Dream Temple' (1997- 1999) seem to be about the path to enlightenment, and concepts such as the direct perception of emptiness. Please correct me if I misunderstand. These concepts are very hard to understand without deep personal study or access to another's knowledge - maybe someone who has attained these high states of meditation. I wanted to ask you if you had met a teacher or spiritual guide and if you have had a spiritual experience that deepened your practice as a spiritual seeker and artist.
MM. The concept of Dream Temple was developed in 1997. At the time I was interested in the Mind Only School - a Buddhist philosophy from around 500-100bc - which is about a deeper consciousness called 'alaya consciousness'. This inspired me to create a space where you can experience something like alaya consciousness; but if you see alaya consciousness through deep meditation you are supposed to get enlightened, but that also means that if you don't get enlightened you don't really see alaya consciousness, so it's just pure imagination of what alaya consciousness is. That's how I started with this work. Then, while I was thinking about that - when I was sleeping - I had some kind of experience. I wasn't really sleeping, but I'm not sure I was really awake, but it felt a bit transcendent to a different state of mind, but I was able to experience what I think is close to alaya consciousness or Nirvana or something that is described in Buddhist sutra. It was a vision - I tried to recreate a very similar vision to that I experienced.
I have been studying tea ceremonies since 1998 or 1999. The tea ceremony can lead to a similar state of mind, and has some shared philosophical ideas with Zen Buddhism. In a way I have a kind of continued practice but I don't have a particular spiritual teacher or leader. However I have a good relationship with the Abbot of Hōryū-ji Temple in Nara (which was the first temple to import the Mind Only School into Japan) and when I don't find good research or books in English I sometimes ask his help to obtain reading material.
IM. Artists create their vision by the power of their mind and imagination, but when they try to embody it in the coarse materials of the Earth sometimes they fall short of that mental creation. Is that something you are familiar with in your own work?
MM. Some work has taken over two years of just researching the right technology or the right materials, and when I have a vision I often don't how how I can materialize it, so I have to be inspired by different things in order to be creative about it. Eventually I am able to do something about it after maybe one or two years, but if I'm lucky I coincidentally find the right person or the right technology or the right material. Often I think it's a process and I need that time to develop and focus my ideas. I think that time is very important to focus my progression, so sometimes if I wait enough I get the right source, so everything has a reason.
IM. The relationship between art and divinity was the seed of abstract art. Mondrian, Kandinsky, Yves Klein, Duchamp, Jasper Johns, Brice Marden, Joseph Beuys and others have all attempted to illuminate or reach the divine.
Kandinsky said 'the artist is the priest of beauty'. In particular reference to your show 'Rebirth' at the Royal Academy in London, do you share that desire to try to awaken the world?
MM. Hmmm...How lovely! (laughs). I think that Beauty does transcend Time and Space. You can be so appreciative of a very ancient object that the object transcends Time completely, and reaches you, and moves you. So yes, I think it's absolutely true and very important. These words are coming from an artist but scientists share the same feelings about when they find some aesthetics or beauty in their formulae, and they feel that's a sign of the right direction of this discovery. It leads us into the right direction. I'm not sure if I have the desire to awaken the world! First of all I'd like to be awakened but I think what I would like to do is share the experience with others, so I'm not saying 'I want to awaken you', I'm saying 'I want to awaken with you'.
IM. You use the marriage of technology and art to show us how to see our world and our relationship to nature. Do you think a marriage between science and art would lead to a better future for all of us?
MM. I think that not only science and art but all the different disciplines that exist in the world can be really bonded; if we have more dialogue we will be able to share some ideas. At this moment I think that's a very important thing to do, because somehow in the past when everything was so divided we didn't have much conversation between these different disciplines. But there's so much in common, and it's so stimulating for each other. The more we collaborate and have a dialogue, the more we can see the bigger picture rather than have a limited perception.
IM. I read that you lived an ascetic life in the 90's - do you still do this? How do you keep that discipline in New York City? Do you eat a raw diet? Do you meditate? I was wondering if you would share your personal practice - how do you keep a clear/pure mind? That would seem to mirror your work...
MM. New York always challenges me - it's like a test, in a way. The more I resist the harder it gets. The more I accept it, it just passes. I don't think I would be able to experience this if I was in the mountains. Sometimes I go to the sea for a month and concentrate on the inner side, but I think the teaching is much more in the true life. I'm still a student and a beginner in this but New York gives me a chance to do this every day - not resisting but accepting. But to do it constantly is quite hard so I have to sometimes take a break, but I think art only comes from life. If there's no life then there's no art. Art is like the fruit of life.
IM. Could you tell us a little about what you're doing in the coming year?
MM. First of all the most ambitious project is the six continent project. I wanted to create a work on nature, and I formed a foundation called FAOU which is currently working on an installation in a waterfall in Brazil. That's an aim and goal for 2015. A closer one is that I am designing stage and costume for a production of the opera Madame Butterfly that premieres next month (nb: MM interviewed May 2013) at Teatro La Fenice in Venice -. It's a part of the Biennale - a special project. I try to put Buddhist philosophy into Madame Butterfly with the concept of endless circle of life and death. And there is a solo exhibition in Tokyo at Espace Louis Vuitton called Infinite Renew, which opens September 28th 2013.
The travelling exhibition from the Royal Academy, Rebirth Recent work by Mariko Mori will open at the Japan Society, NYC on October 11th 2013.