09/24/2013 08:36 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Japanese Performance Artist Mariko Mori On Nature, Liberation And The Current State Of Performance

Japanese performance artist Mariko Mori weightlessly floats between diverse topics from consumerism and technology to ancient Japanese Jōmon culture and Celtic tradition.


Somewhere between a spiritual being and a futuristic alien, Mori weaves together the most disparate of subject matters, revealing the interconnectedness of all things. Sacred rituals and pop culture trends, cyber fantasies and feminist dreams all are wrapped up in Mori's holistic purview.

The iconic artist is having a renaissance this fall, as she's hosting her first US solo show in over a decade. Appropriately dubbed "Rebirth," the exhibition explores how art and technology shape the world around us, spanning back to the origins of being.

"Our life was inherited from our very remote ancestors and given to us now and we will transfer it to future generations…. The chain of life reaching back through history," Mori explained to the museum. "Rebirth" features a performance by Mori herself, playing a shaman-like role to entice viewers into a meditative state.

Mori also recently announced her recent representation by Sean Kelly Gallery, who also represents performance pioneer Marina Abramovic. We reached out to Mori to find out more about her big year ahead.

Flat Stone, 2006. © Mariko Mori. Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

In the past you have said you must create to exist. Have you ever taken a break from creating art?

Every moment of life is an important ingredient for my work. Even if it feels quite difficult at some moments, there is always something to realize and learn from. It is not so easy to realize that at the moment in time, but every moment can be a gift.

What first drew you to performance art as a medium? Do you remember your first performance? How did it go?

My very first performance was a tea ceremony I performed when I was 3 years old. In 1995, I incased myself in a body capsule in Shibuya for an art performance.

Your work references a vast range of sources from Manga to prehistoric Japanese traditions. Do you see similar themes or motivations behind such disparate pieces of text?

It's a culture of our human life. There is an underlying universal theme, which existed from prehistoric to contemporary. It is a cyclic model of life, death and rebirth. Through experiencing life, we learn to love each other and ourselves. A fundamental human life has not been changed except our relationship to the nature. I realized that our ancestors' life was much more deeply rooted in the nature and they lived as nature. Since we separated ourselves from nature, we started to lose a sense of the natural aspect of human being. But, human is a nature so it is relevant to remember that.


Many of the characters you portray seem to cater to a male fantasy. What is at stake when a woman is creating these images of herself?

My early work, particularly in the media of photography, was more a social comment in order to liberate a woman’s position in Japan.

Performance art seems to be one of the few types of art in which women have always been at the forefront of the medium and are actually recognized for their impact. Do you think there is something particular about performance art that lends itself to women?

There are many great male performers in contemporary art history. It is nice to have an opportunity for a female artist to express her idea through performance. The best thing about the performance is that the experience is shared in the present moment with the audience. I very much enjoy this aspect of it.

What do you have planned for the coming year?

I am developing a new series of sculptural work using the method of the latest technology. It allows me to produce something that it was not so easy to do before. A long-term project that my non-profit organization called Faou is working on is an installation project at a waterfall in Brazil. It is a permanent site-specific installation to honor nature, which is scheduled to complete in 2015. A closer goal is that there is a solo exhibition at Espace Louis Vuitton in Tokyo called "Infinite Renew," which opens September 28th 2013. Following this exhibition, the traveling exhibition from Royal Academy, Rebirth will open at the Japan Society, New York on October 11th 2013.

Wave UFO (interior), 1999-2002
brainwave interface, vision dome, projector, computer system, fiberglass
207 x 446 x 194 inches (528 x 113.4 x 493 cm)
edition of 2 with 1 AP
© Mariko Mori
Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

Wave UFO, 1999-2002
brainwave interface, vision dome, projector, computer system, fiberglass
207 x 446 x 194 inches (528 x 113.4 x 493 cm)
edition of 2 with 1 AP
© Mariko Mori
Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

Flat Stone (detail), 2006
ceramic stones and acrylic vase
3 1/2 x 124 x 192 inches (8.8 x 314.6 x 487.5 cm)
edition of 2 with 1 AP
© Mariko Mori
Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

"Rebirth: Recent Work by Mariko Mori" will run from October 11 until January 12, 2014. at the Japan Society in New York.