I’m in a darkened room, sitting on a wooden bench, watching a film. It’s a psychedelic, experimental short from the late 1960s. Shapes and colours flicker around the screen. Soon the shapes make way to reveal humans – lovely young hippies. They’re naked and painting their bodies with abstract shapes, writhing together in a joyful painty mess.
When this image become obvious, a middle-aged woman in the room exclaims, “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!”
On screen, a man is standing with a stocking on his genitals.
“That’s a lady’s pantihose!”, the woman’s husband observes.
“Yes,” the she confirms, sounding relieved that it wasn’t her knee-highs on that man’s dangly bits.
Meanwhile, the fellow on screen has started humping a naked lady’s bottom with his manhosiery.
“Oh my godfathers,” the woman says.
“It’s like an orgy gone wrong,” the man says, rhyming ‘orgy’ with ‘corgi’, suggesting he’s never known an orgy gone right let alone wrong.
Soon they leave, almost as if their uncomfortable silence has booted them out like a bouncer.
This scene took place in one of the areas of Yayoi Kusama’s “Mirrored Years” exhibition at the refurbished City Gallery Wellington. (But that’s the room you don’t take your kids into.)
Downstairs, the new Adam Auditorium in the gallery was screening the documentary “Yayoi Kusama: I Adore Myself”.
You know what I don’t like about films played in art galleries? When they’re played on loop, with no indication of what time the film starts, leaving audiences to wander in halfway through, like it’s the 1950s. “I Adore Myself” was a fully-fledged feature-length documentary, not some video art that audiences can just dip in and out of.
The Adam Auditorium has one flaw that makes film screenings difficult – the blinds that block out the external light extend between two layers of glass, meaning the glass surface ends up clearly reflecting the film. This is annoying and distracting (much more than the ladder propped up in the wings at the Paramount) and quite strange to find in an otherwise nicely designed, brand new structure.
There’s a theme here – dark rooms. Amongst the rest of the Kusama exhibition I most enjoyed the pieces that were in dark settings. Specifically the firefly room – lines of LED lights with mirrored walls and over a reflecting pond – and the living room covered in fluorescent dots, violently glowing in the ultraviolet light.
The pieces that were more brightly lit annoyed me and left me feeling like I was being obscenely sucked into their world of yellow and black and giant blobby shapes, an unwilling Alice in Blunderland. Those ones had me uncomfortably fleeing room like the middle-aged couple had done at the short film.
But I like how the City Gallery has, for its reopening exhibiton, been transformed into a series of magical rooms, but with just enough rough edges and dangly bits to not leave audiences feeling too comfortable.
Take your sweetie along and gaze at the pretty lights, but just watch out that your honey doesn’t push you in the water.