Mariko Mori

Purification, initiation, and illumination: In the Buddhist tradition, these are the three steps to enlightenment. They are also the subject—rarely tackled in art with such clarity—of Mariko Mori’s multimedia installation at the Fondazione Prada. Laid out in three rooms, the entire exhibition is pervaded by a sense of immateriality. In Enlightenment Capsule, 1998, a pastel-petaled lotus flower appears to float, illuminated from above, in a transparent oval capsule. The open lotus flower, hovering impalpably in the void, serves as a metaphor for an awakening of the soul.

Mori translates the ineffable experience of enlightenment into images of pristine beauty. Viewers embark on a mystical journey at a slow tempo, often in silence. In the large first room, Garden of Purification, 1999, is a path of fifty-one resin stones of various colors, leading the visitor through a sort of Zen garden whose floor has been covered with sea salt. Mori raked the salt into six sets of concentric circles. At the center of each, she placed a “stone planet,” a sphere meant to affect the chakras, the body’s centers of energy.

Halfway through the room is Kumano, 1997–98, a color photograph divided into five large panels. On the left side, the artist appears next to Nachi Falls, a destination for devotional pilgrimages in Japan. On the right, we see her standing among some trees next to a turquoise temple. These elements recur in Kumano (Alaya), 1997–98, a video installation that begins with an image of the open sky that is slowly covered by branches. The camera descends through tall trees and focuses on Mori, who walks in a dense forest dappled with sunlight. The temple appears in the distance. The artist, enveloped in the blinding splendor of a white garment, becomes a veritable body of light in motion. The camera alternates between shots of total “subjectivity,” in which we see through her eyes as she runs at a breathless pace, and a calmer pan over the surrounding landscape—an oscillation between emotional identification and objective detachment. At the end of the road, the artist’s body vanishes in a glare that sucks her upward into the bright emptiness of enlightenment. After celebrating a ritual dance, Mori concludes with a private tea ceremony, a kind of meditation in which the sacred nature and slowness of her gestures radiate a sense of contained perfection. The meditative experience becomes one with the aesthetic experience.

The final room contains Dream Temple, 1999, inspired by the eighth-century “Temple of Dreams” in the Buddhist monastery of Horyuji. A large canopy ornamented with gigantic pearls made of Murano glass surmounts an octagonal structure, which rests, like a luminous spaceship, on a glimmering carpet of salt and tiny shards of glittery plastic. The solidity of the construction evaporates in the delicacy of its outer materials—fiberglass, plastic, and iridescent glass—which emanate a halolike shimmer. Dream Temple appears as a utopian site, where the fusion of tradition and technology brings to light the experience of beauty grasped in an eternal present.

A white quartz rests beneath the temple. This is the crystal of purification of the seventh chakra, which encourages the opening of the head’s “crown” to create a channel with the absolute. The entire architecture thus symbolically becomes an extraordinary vehicle of communication. After climbing eight steps of dichroic glass, the visitor enters the temple’s inner sanctum, within which he or she can sit and watch a three-dimensional projection of digital images. Mori invents a universe of forms in incessant mutation: Atoms become planets; darkness is transformed into a blinding sun. These images evoke the Big Bang, as well as the formation of cells in a fertilized egg—a cosmic womb in which the human and the universal become one. Mori reveals the ultimate state of the highly evolved human spirit, as the weaver between the relative and the absolute, the spider of existence weaving the tapestry of creation.

Ida Panicelli
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.