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Mariko Mori

Cosmic pods, stone circles, and the iridescence of invisible light with the Japanese artist

Exuding serenity and dressed all in white, Mariko Mori is a bit like one of her own artworks. The installations, videos, sculptures and photographs she has been making over the past 18 years could have been dropped from another dimension. Hers is a world of digitally inner-lit pods and films of floating gods, that has been a large influence on the digital aesthetic of a younger generation – the fluidity innate in her work is reflected in everything from Marc Newson’s design work to Daniel Swan’s 3D imaging. In the past decade she has focused on increasingly ambitious installation projects that fuse engineering, architecture, science and art. Speaking to Dazed during a brief visit to London, in advance of her upcoming exhibition at the Royal Academy’s new RA Now space, Mori talks about her fascination with prehistory, nature and pods.

This is the first exhibition you have put on in London in over a decade. What are you going to be making for the Royal Academy?
Mariko Mori: I had an exhibition at the Royal Academy – Apocalypse (which also included work from the Chapman brothers, Mike Kelley and many others) – in 2000. I’m showing work from afterwards, that I’m actually producing at the moment.

After Apocalypse, the speed of your work seemed to slow down. Were you just focusing?
Mariko Mori: After ‘Dream-Temple’ (from Apocalypse), I produced a work called ‘Wave UFO’, a large-scale installation. Then I shifted the direction of my work. I was very inspired by prehistoric objects and archaeological sites, so I did some fieldwork. It’s quite different. There has been a change.

What do you find interesting about prehistoric references?
Mariko Mori: I started to do some fieldwork all over Japan and especially the (time period) called Jomon, 14,000 BC to 300 BC. I also started to travel in England, and I went to Orkney in Scotland and saw the stone circles. It seems to me that there was so much power in that time period. There seems to be a parallel across the world and I found it universal. We don’t find anything universal in our beliefs in (today’s) world, while it seems to me that at that time, we shared the same religion. Also, in modern society we have created a distance between ourselves and nature, so we’ve lost this sense that our remote ancestors had. Because of the lack of that relationship we find ourselves disconnected and unbalanced – we are not taking seriously our responsibility to be caretakers. I want to reintroduce the idea that at one time we had a deep connection with nature.

Much of your work is influenced by technology. How do the futuristic and the deep past connect for you?
Mariko Mori: I still use technology in my work. Technology is another language or vocabulary for art that we can utilise to express ideas, even though the idea was inspired by ancient or prehistory. I think it’s a natural way of expanding our vocabulary. I’m sure in the Renaissance, they would invent new things and then re-use these inventions in their work – it’s a natural progression. We need to imagine what we need in our society and what we need for ourselves and then create new technology.

What do you find interesting about working in a public space, like the sculpture project you are creating by the sea in Okinawa in Japan? 
Mariko Mori: It was very challenging for me – we had to really think things through. Typhoons come 20 times a year, so we needed to do environmental studies to think about the impact of the work so we don’t disturb any corals in the sea. Engaging with the local people was very important as well. It was a way for me to confront nature.

You created a virtual realisation of the installation ‘Tida Dome’, for the Adobe Museum of Digital Media. What did you find interesting about making real and virtual expressions of the project? 
Mariko Mori: For me, it’s very important that people come to see the work on-site because I want people to experience nature. That’s the most important thing. I reconnected with nature and the work is to honour nature. With the online exhibition, you are able to grasp ideas. Virtually, you have different scales – standing in front of the work and birds’-eye view – so you can actually see the whole bay. Your mind can be a little more objective.

You have an amazing colour palette, iridescent like a butterfly wing. What do you like about those colours? 
Mariko Mori: I try to capture some invisible light, something that you don’t see but you are supposed to feel. Those colours are closer to what I imagine invisible light is.

A lot of the forms you use have this fluidity, these pod-bubble shapes. What do they reference for you? 
Mariko Mori: I found the references in the Jomon dwellings. They worshipped two stones – a standing stone and a round stone. Archaeologists think that they prayed for harvests, or for more generations to come. That shape is rounded, so I wanted to bring this form into contemporary times.

Do you think it was connected to ideas of feminine forms? 
Mariko Mori: Some archaeologists think that it signifies new life. The fullness is like a new baby, symbolising the womb. I think there is something very female about it, but we don’t know because there is nothing written. It’s just what we are imagining.

You make connections in your work to worship and spirituality. Does that connect to your East Asian heritage? 
Mariko Mori: Of course it’s my cultural background. I studied deeply when I was producing those series of works. My investigation with the prehistoric fieldwork is really defined by a universal idea – through the exhibition I try to evoke a consciousness. It’s very evident from prehistoric (research) that we were all one. I would like to leave the existing nature to future generations, and in order to do that, we have to not politically divide the world with borders. When I’m talking about the Okinawa project, it is for local people, but if they don’t take care of this beautiful pristine nature, there won’t be any left. That impacts on all of us, like what happened with

Fukushima. It had an impact on the whole world.

Your work seems much more about creating an emotional effect rather than something monetary. 
Mariko Mori: The motivation is to really share ideas. Sometimes it’s in a site-specific installation. I’m trying to do one per continent. The next project will be in Brazil. During the exhibition, it’s very important for me to also communicate with people in the city, because they are the ones who have to really change their minds and think about what they are doing to affect the small island. You may not think that you have an effect, but you do. The scale is unlimited.

December 13–February 17, Mariko Mori: Re-Birth, RA Now, Burlington Gardens, London W1. 

Taken from the December Issue of Dazed & Confused