Introduction to Obliterating the Selfie

On September 20, 2015, The Broad, a contemporary art museum in downtown Los Angeles opened its doors. Amongst the works in its inaugural exhibition was one of Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Rooms titled, The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away. This was also the beginning of an influential Instagram trend: a mirrored selfie within Kusama's work. Since the museum's opening, the work has been photographed or recorded and then shared on Instagram with the geolocation tag: Infinity Mirrored Room at The Broad approximately 6,500 times and counting.1 The exhibition will end in October of 2017, when an exhibition of six different Infinity Mirrors will then open.

Made of wood, metal, glass mirrors, plastic, acrylic panel, rubber, LED lighting system, acrylic balls, and water.2 Visitors wait for lengthened amounts of time, perhaps hours, to spend 45 seconds within the Infinity Mirrored Room. Walking onto a dock-like platform they enter a darkened mirrored space filled with cosmic lights to see their own reflection repeated infinitely within the room. In a fleeting instant the viewer attempts to take a selfie within the mirrored room, usually opting for a simple front facing image.

The importance of capturing this selfie was well explained by Marshall Mcluhan in Understanding Media, " at once become fascinated by any extension of themselves in any material other than themselves." 3 Mcluhan like Kusama often used the story of Narcissus in his work in order to explain the obsession with one's self. Not only are visitors of the Infinity Mirrored Room, like Narcissus, discovering their reflection, but also this reflection is within an artwork. Rather than a momentary reflection this is captured with one's device and lives on. As curator, writer and art historian, Danielle Shang, explained in an essay on Kusama and her work, "The urge to capture and disseminate the moment one's own image coalesces onto a privileged object in a privileged institution seems to motivate the obsession with the self." 4

The goal of Kusama's work has continuously been to, "obliterate the self by infinite multiplications." 5 This intention is only reinforced by this selfie trend.

There are a limited number of ways to take a selfie within Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room, due to the small platform and limited amount of time. The repetitiveness of the poses and overwhelming quantity of selfies shared on Instagram, aid in the disappearance of the individual selfie. A unique selfie is quickly lost within the sea of selfies in a matter of hours as more are uploaded. The selfie, and therefore the self, is once again made irrelevant amongst the numerous duplicates.

In "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Walter Benjamin defined aura as a work of art's, "...presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be." 6 At the time of his writing, Benjamin referred to mechanical reproduction as photographs of fine art that could then be printed and sold.

Today viewers of the Infinity Mirrored Room capture the work with their phones or digital cameras, therefore reproducing the work. They too are generating a kind of capital, but in the form of publicity for the museum. Rather than being printed, the selfie exists on Instagram indefinitely, unless deleted. As other users see selfies within Kusama's work increasingly on their feeds, they too are drawn to reproduce the same image. Each user has a different idea on how to reproduce the work on Instagram with filters and cropping, but this uniqueness becomes irrelevant as the content is all the same.

Does this selfie trend devalue the aura of Kusama's work? As more and more selfies are taken within the work, does it simply become a backdrop for Instagram users, a kind of approved decoration that is sure to gain likes and comments? In that way the reproduction is a kind of social currency. Or do the reproductions on this social media platform only serve to reinforce the aura of the work? The Infinity Mirrored Room is an experiential installation; can photographs or videos fully capture this? Are Instagram users motivated to visit the work to fully experience and appreciate the art of Yayoi Kusama?

Also reinforced by this selfie trend is the concept of time. Kusama's mirrored spaces are named Infinity Mirrored Rooms. Visitors to The Broad participate in contradicting experiences of time. They wait prolonged amounts of time to enter the museum, which is free, to then wait even longer to enter the installation. Then for an incredibly short amount of time, just seconds, try to take-in, appreciate, and snap a quality selfie. This contradiction of time is often mentioned by users in the comments accompanying their uploaded selfies. However, the selfie that the viewer takes is thought to exist endlessly on Instagram.

This selfie trend is not the first time the Infinity Mirrored Room garnered this kind of attention and popularity on Instagram. This specific mirrored room, The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, was originally created in 2013 for the opening of David Zwirner's gallery in New York City. Where the selfie trend was also prevalent at the geolocation of the gallery, however not to the scale of The Broad.

A culmination of factors has led to the overwhelming popularity of this mirrored room at The Broad. Although Kusama has been working with mirrored spaces since 1965, beginning with Phalli's Field, it was not until almost every person possessed a phone with a camera, that taking pictures with the work became commonplace. The rise of social media platforms, like Instagram, then gives individuals a space to share these images and further motivation to visit the exhibit.

Attendance to The Broad contemporary art museum in Los Angeles is youthful, the average age of visitors being thirty-two, fourteen years younger than the national average for art museum attendance according to National Endowment for the Arts'.7 This can be attributed to the museum's predominantly pop-art collection, free admission and age of the museum itself. Another contributing factor is celebrity endorsements of the exhibition. Katy Perry, Kate Hudson, James Franco and Resse Witherspoon have all visited and posted images within the work to their millions of followers.8 The widely popular musician, Adele used footage of herself from inside the installation for her performance at The Brit Awards in 2016, after reportedly seeing Katy Perry's selfie.

The "comeback" of Yayoi Kusama to the United States was marked by her retrospective exhibition at the Whitney in 2012, after leaving New York City for Japan during a period of mental illness.9 Which was then followed by a series of well-attended exhibitions. These factors all combine to make Infinity Mirrored Room: The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away an incredibly popular art piece measured in attendance and uploaded selfies.

This book consists of selfies taken within the first four months of, The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, September 2015 to December 2015. Although the exhibition did not open to public until the 20th of September, private showings explain earlier selfies. It is also important to note, that these selfies have only been gathered from one geolocation tag: Infinity Mirrored Room at The Broad. However, almost equal amounts of selfies within Kusama's work were tagged at The Broad and The Broad Museum at Downtown Los Angeles.

The total value of this selfie trend, like infinity, cannot be assigned or at least not yet. However, it is obvious that the trend will come to dominate several other museums besides The Broad as the previously mentioned exhibition of six infinity mirrors, titled Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors will tour North America in 2017 and 2018.

These selfies, or rather reproductions of Kusama's work, have now been printed as another form of reproduction in order to consider the artwork, The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, from the perspective of the visitor, viewer and user.

1. [Instagram posts collected and counted using Picodash, which provides Social Media Management and advanced Instagram search functionality. Reviewed and approved by Instagram]
2. [The Broad (Artwork description.)]
3. [Mcluhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995 [1964]. Pg. 43-44.]
4. [Shang, Danielle. Yayoi Kusama, Narcissus Garden. Khan Academy. Khan Academy]
5. [Edited by Neri, Louise and Goto, Takaya. Yayoi Kusama. Rizzoli, 2012. Pg. 186.]
6. [Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Illuminations. Translated by Harry Zohn. Edited by Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books, 1969. Pg. 3.]
7. [Vankin, Deborah. "What's drawing millennials to downtown L.A.'s Broad museum." March 20, 2016. LA Times]
8. [Vankin, Deborah. "What's drawing millennials to downtown L.A.'s Broad museum." March 20, 2016. LA Times]
9. [Swanson, Carl. "The Art of the Flame-Out." July 8, 2012. NY Magazine (An article on Kusama's mental illness and return to New York.)]