Mariko Mori: Rebirth

The Mori Art Collection, Tokyo. © Mariko Mori. Photo: Ole Hein Pedersen.
Mariko Mori 'Transcircle 1.1 (indoor)', 2004
Royal Academy of Arts Burlington Gardens, Piccadilly Wednesday January 30 2013 10:00 - 18:00
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The cycle of life from birth to death and back again forms the arc to this major display of Japanese sculptor Mariko Mori. In the opening, clinic-white room, a star has died to make the glossy glass menhir, 'Tom Na H-iu II' (2006), come to life. Its pulsing inner lights are powered by cosmic rays and neutrino bursts or supernova, which are beamed as data from an observatory in Tokyo and translated into ethereal green, pink, yellow or blue afterglows.

Maybe this white dwarf or black hole or whatever it was (Patrick Moore would have known) stopped emitting its cosmic flares momentarily, because it was dark when I first went in – but then circling back to the start is what the show is all about.

When not animated by light or interstellar juice, Mori's installations can look like posh spas, full of smooth stones and ergonomic pebbles. All that is missing is the infinity pool, although the final room does have a natty water feature. Mori has, in fact, been ploughing this same peculiarly extraterrestrial, sci-fi furrow for the past two decades, making iPad-like touchable tablets long before the technology existed. Of course, like Apple, she is also guilty of skeuomorphism (the use of retro design elements) in her primitive Stonehenge reprises and Zen-garden analogies, and is similarly fond of attaching a neo-spiritual, cultish self-aggrandisement to her slick and genial work, which Steve Jobs would have appreciated.

Faced with all these inscrutable, pearlescent baubles that look like futuristic car designs, it's easy to dismiss Mori's hippy-dippy themes of interplanetary transcendence and ancient resonance. That is, until you sit with one of her better works. Like the showstopping standing stone at the beginning, the final room is an immersive experience, this time about the birth of a star. 'White Hole' (2012) takes you down a fallopian corridor to a womb-like chamber lit by a tiny ball of energy that floats behind a screen (think James Turrell with movement). Bathing in the luminescent trail of this star being born, I began to stare as if in hope that this little blob of light would become something. The longer I stayed, the more I saw. My cynicism about her lava-lamp aesthetic duly washed away: Mori had won me over.

Venue name: Royal Academy of Arts Burlington Gardens
Contact:
Address: 6 Burlington Gardens
London
W1S 3ES
Opening hours: Mon-Thu, Sat, Sun 10am-6pm; Fri 10am-10pm
Transport: Tube: Green Park/Piccadilly Circus
Price: £10, concs available