Mariko Mori’s Primal Rhythm in the Deep Blue


Many Asian artists, no matter how worldly their youthful detours, seem inevitably to end up steeped in spiritual issues. Consider Japan’s shape-shifting Mariko Mori (b. 1967). Two decades ago, the former fashion model emerged on the global art scene in the persona of a sci-fi pinup, posing for her own camera as a cyborg hooker (Red Light, 1994), a futuristic computer-game vamp (Play With Me, 1994), or a strangely white-eyed, earphone-wearing schoolgirl (Birth of a Star, 1995). Next, she assumed the guise of characters related to traditional Eastern culture and myths (Burning Desire, 1997), while also creating sculptural pods and alien spacecraft forms (Wave UFO, 1999).

Actual-sized test installation taken during the winter solstice 2010 of Sun Pillar, Primal Rhythm: Seven Light Bay Project, Miyako Island, 2009. Courtesy Mariko Mori and photographer Toshiishi Shimoji. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Faou Foundation, New York.

Of late, however, a new element has entered Mori’s art—at once deepening and simplifying its effect. The Brancusi-like Sun Pillar (1999) is based on a solar phenomenon that marks the death—and, according to the artist’s statement, the potential rebirth-of distant stars. Transcircle (2004) brings luminous monoliths together into a circular, seemingly communal, configuration. In short, as the artist moves from performative photography into nonfigurative sculptural installation, a concern with both human connectedness and transcendence becomes increasingly evident.

This sobering change also affects her exhibition strategy. Long a featured artist on the international museum and gallery circuit—Deitch Projects, New York, and Galerie Perrotin, Paris—Mori has now started taking her work to contemplative, out-of-the-way locales. Last summer, in time for the first Setouchi International Art Festival [July 17–Oct. 31, 2010], she erected a tall shaft in the middle of a pond surrounded by bamboo forests on the tiny island of Teshima, Japan.

On May 17, a reception will be held on Miyako Island, near Okinawa, to mark the completion of Sun Pillar, part of Mori’s new “Primal Rhythm” project, created under the auspices of her nonprofit Faou Foundation, which was inaugurated in 2010. The artist created the name Faou, she explains in a public letter, to designate “eternal light that is invisible and eternal.” The organization, more concretely, aims “to increase public awareness of the environment in remote locations through the placement of permanent art installations in pristine landscapes worldwide.”

Sited on Seven Light Bay, “Primal Rhythm” will eventually consist of the roughly 14-foot-high Sun Pillar, ensconced on a rock jutting out of the bay, and Moon Stone, a large floating pod whose color will change with the tidal movements. At the winter solstice each year, the shadow of the phallic pillar will reach the egg-shaped pod, thus evoking, Mori writes, “the sacred ‘marriage’ of the sun and moon.”

ABOVE: Computer Graphic Image of Primal Rhythm: Seven Light Bay Project, Miyako Island, 2009. (c) Mariko Mori. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Faou Foundation, New York