Yayoi Kusama, Fireflies on the Water, 2002

NARRATOR: On the other side of this door is Yayoi Kusama's 2002 installation, Fireflies on the Water. It's materials are simple—mirrors, water, and one-hundred-and-fifty small lights—but its effects are complex.

As the title suggests, the lights feel almost natural, like fireflies like a tranquil summer night. The pools of water create an incredible sense of stillness. And as you enter the mirrored space, you see endless images of yourself, reflected off into the deep distance.

The work creates the feeling of being everywhere and nowhere at once. Kusama is eighty-three years old. She’s been an incredibly prolific artist—in part because her psychic life has been marked by struggle, and art has been her best weapon. As a young child, Kusama had hallucinations in which certain images or patterns would overwhelm her visual field—growing to infinity, threatening her with obliteration. In some of her earlier works, there’s something unnerving about the idea that things might go on and on without end. But the feeling of this work is very different. After five decades as a productive artist, Kusama had become free to invite us to forget all limits, to abandon our sense of self, and to give in to a kind of meditative magic.

Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), Fireflies on the Water, 2002. Mirror, plexiglass, 150 lights and water, 111 × 144 1/2 × 144 1/2 in. (281.9 × 367 × 367 cm) overall. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Postwar Committee and the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee and partial gift of Betsy Wittenborn Miller 2003.322a-tttttttt. © Yayoi Kusama. Photograph courtesy Robert Miller Gallery