Mariko Mori @ Burlington Gardens


The artwork of Japanese artist Mariko Mori is unlike anything I am used to. Her exhibition at the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens is a display of light, nature and purity.

The show is deeply concerned with the natural world, the seasons and the life cycle. It is sort of like a science, religion and art lesson at school all mixed into one in the forms of illuminated installations and drawings which look like microscopic studies. The galleries are dimly lit so as to allow the illuminated works stand out. We are invited into a world of candy colours, crystals and reflected light. One moment we feel like we are in the space section of the science museum while the next we are confronted with buddhist sculptures. Through her work, Mori attempts to find harmony with humans and nature and while the lights and crystals are somewhat spellbinding, the heavy use of technology seems far from natural. The whole ambiance of the show is more cosmic and other worldly than natural, although the strangely sterile environment which appears uncontaminated and unpolluted may be what the artist was going for.

Among the displays are overlapping circles, crystals and round forms over harsh lines. Nature is shown not for its beauty but on a scientific level as particles and fragments of something larger. Mori’s works on paper are subtle. The viewer has to look very close. From afar they look like old tea stains but up close they mirror her other work. They are like cells, a diagram, not so much artistic but didactic, as though Mori is trying to teach us something about the world we live in.

Most memorable from the exhibition are the installations. Trans Circle from 2004 looks like a modern stone henge. It is a revamped, cleaner, white circle of rounded forms surrounded by smaller white stones. These forms then act as mood lighting which light up in a dark room in pale colours, changing subtly one by one as though trying to signal some kind of message in a strange morse code and are said to relate to Japanese Jomon Stone circles dating from 2000 to 1000 BCE. Another installation is presented in the form of a cavity in the ceiling of an empty room in which a purple light moves around it. However I could not bare more than one minute in the space which was ice cold, whether for artistic effect or not, it certainly is not appropriate in the winter time.

Mori’s most ambitious work is an attempt to associate seasonal light with Seven Light Bay. This is shown through photographic documentation of her journey and a video explanation of the installation. While I can’t admit I fully understood the concept it talks about the importance of light, nature and the winter solstice and attempts to unite the celestial and terrestrial. The project is formed of a sun pillar which interacts with primal rhythms of nature but that is as much as I can attempt to tell you. For me personally, it is a little far fetched but I can appreciate how it may make sense to others.

While I wouldn’t necessarily say that Mori’s work is to my taste it offers the spiritual among us an air of peace and calm which is so often missing from contemporary London shows.

Mariko Mori: Rebirth is on display at Royal Academy Burlington Gardens until February 17

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine and Reorient.

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