Mariko Mori: Empty Dream
Brooklyn Museum of Art
April 8 to August 15, 1999

I love reading the reactions to Mariko Mori’s shows around the world. On her
last exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London, a critic from The Guardian wasted half a page of the paper just to conclude that her work is self obsessed and narcissistic. The Village Voice now complained that she doesn’t invent her own mythology (as Matthew Barney does) but uses Asian religions to express her spirituality, and furthermore she makes use of assistants to produce her works. Artists portray themselves and their vision of the world. Contemporary artists have assistants to do a lot of their manual works. This is what artists do. I don’t think this would be an issue if Mariko Mori wasn’t extremely beautiful, wealthy and Japanese. Somehow the combination of these three elements make up a reason to judge her and her work as superficial, naive and mundane.
Empty Dream (1995), a 9x24 feet six panels photograph, shows a scene from Ocean Dome, the largest indoor artificial beach in the world. Here Mariko depicts herself four times posing dressed up as a mermaid. A friend of mine compared this work to “La Grande Jatte” by Seurat, and I think this is the very key we need to use to open the door to the fantasy world of Mariko Mori. Pondering on this, I could not think of a more suitable work of art to represent this moment in time, the end of this century and the end of this millennium. Mariko’s world may be superficial and immediate, but it’s the mirror of a culture that is pointing in this direction, towards an empty dream of artificial happiness that cannot last.
Whilst looking at her video installation
Miko No Inori, filmed at Kansai International Airport, I have been wondering on where she could go from here and I imagined a huge architectural installation of her sci-fi future world where spectators can enter the space. Then I thought of the disappointment I would experience in meeting a normal human being in this environment. I think a very important aspect of Mori’s work can be understood the moment we step out of her world and we are back into the real one. Her world is not a fantasy dream, it what the real world could be. It’s not by chance she placed an earlier photograph, Play with me, at the entrance/exit of the exhibition. In this she portrays herself standing in front of a Japanese game arcade, wearing an anime high tech silver armour. When we see this photograph before the exhibition it works as a prologue to what we are about to enter, but looking at it again before we exit, a sudden sadness reminds us of the reality of our society, its need for diversion and artificial achievements to overcome spiritual and philosophical emptiness. Her face is uncertain, like a robot doll or a video game prostitute, she waits for her next nickel dropper and wonders what he will be like. In the last few years, Mariko Mori has moved from works reflecting on the state of our society, to a quest of a more spiritual nature. In a series of four large photographic panoramas, Esoteric Cosmos (1996 - 98), Mori presents herself within a dreamy, perfectly digitally composed, landscapes: Entropy of Love, Burning Desire, Mirror of Water, and Pure Land. They symbolise the four elements of Nature as defined by Buddhist teaching. Burning Desire is the most intriguing of the four panels: shot on the Goby desert, Mariko is present four times wearing traditional Tibetan clothes, levitating and burning. A fifth deity floats above them spreading a rainbow of light around her: it's goddess Mariko, giving a message of faith and support for the Tibetan cause for freedom.
In one of her most recent works,
Kumano (1998) we see her, with her usual beauty and grace, run in the forest, perform Shinto rituals and the tea ceremony inside a futuristic digitally produced surrounding. The video is accompanied by music that she has composed and sings, and takes us into a dream where the future is now but tradition is respected and seen in a new light of serenity and enlightenment. She herself invited Brooklyn to assist her tea ceremony. In a slow ritual, surrounded by suitable ambient music, she placed white sand and flower petals on the floor, then distributed colourful crystal balls on the sand to symbolise our cosmos, thus making, for a moment, the Brooklyn Museum into the centre of the universe. She then knelt into a transparent tent to perform the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and disappeared into the silent crowd.
To many, Mariko Mori's message can be seen as naive and superficial, fuelled
by her wealth and fashionable style. To me, she's a genuine artist capable of combining new technology and traditional - artistic and spiritual - values into a perfect marriage of beauty and honesty.

(c) Stefano Pasquini 1999