Lunch With The Standard: Mariko Mori

I felt distinctly out of place walking into Mariko Mori’s all-white studio office wearing my black coat. Even Mori’s outfit was all-white, save for the two unmissable black buns sitting atop her head. She was humble and kind, offering me traditional Japanese matcha tea when I walked in. If I hadn’t known any better, I never would have guessed that the woman sitting across from me was one of the world’s leading contemporary artists.

Mori, mother of Manna (’19), was born in Japan at a time when contemporary art was not as established as today. “Although the art movement was there from the 60s and 70s [it was] still very minor in society, only supporting traditional style of paintings and sculpture,” Mori said. She felt that there “[weren’t] enough [chances] for students to learn contemporary art,” so she left Japan in 1988 to pursue her education as a contemporary artist at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London.

Mori wanted to stray from the traditional art commonly focused on in Japan, and developed a new approach, using different materials such as technologies,  which were becoming popular in the 90s, specifically the use of computers. While in London, Mori began to explore the medium of artwork she uses today: A combination of sculpting using glass, plastics and technology, which combine to produce a body of work with an extra-terrestrial feel to it.

Mori’s fascination with using technology in art originated while working in a computer-gaming center in Tokyo. There she discovered the use of virtual reality, a form of animation previously reserved for video games, and the ability to create three-dimensional works of art, such as her 2005 work Tom Na H’iu.

Tom Na H’iu is a 15-foot opalescent glass structure with LED lights inside. The lights change color upon receiving information, via the internet, when a neutrino is detected. A neutrino is a subatomic particle from a star that has died. Mori explains when the star dies, they release a massive number of neutrinos, which land on earth due to their atomic weight, a theory proven by a Japanese Nobel Science Prize winner.

This theory plays a key role in the Buddhist philosophy surrounding most of Mori’s artwork and research: Oneness. “It’s all connected,” Mori said. “The death of a star is the reason living beings exist on earth, so again I see the evidence of oneness and how we are all connected.”

Oneness has transcended into most of Mori’s work and research. One of her earlier creations, Wave UFO, a sleek interactive pod, uses brain-wave electrode headsets to project images of the wearer’s brain onto the ceiling. However, the images combine into one, using the information from all three participants. “We look separated, but we are all one and we are all connected. People think individually, but in reality we are all sharing the whole world and we are equal, and we are the one,” Mori said.

Currently, Mori is working on a project for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Her idea is to create a sixth Olympic ring, representing the “connection between human’s nature.” The ring is made up of many layers of clear acrylic plastic with a different color applied between each layer, so that the center is yellow and towards the outside it’s blue. A mirror has been applied to each layer so that when sunlight hits the front it’s blue and when it hits the back it’s yellow. Again, Mori hoped to symbolize oneness, completeness and eternity, specifically in humans being part of nature. “I really hope that future generations continue the tradition of honoring nature,” Mori said.

While Mori has achieved a lot on a personal scale, featuring in numerous galleries all over the world, she believes that art is more than just being featured in museums. For her, art can be used as a vehicle for change and can connect people all around the world. “I believe that art can take boundaries over cultures,” Mori said. “When I exhibit the work in different countries, I feel it’s succeeding because it’s transcending different nations and culture and all the divisions that we see are gone.”