Doing things over and over

Repetition can be a good thing. Some people associate it with boredom or tedium, but repetition brings focus, concentration and it can free the mind to create new ideas. Yayoi Kasuma is a master of repetition as she has spent her entire life painting dots in one form or another.  Kusama, who is 88 years old, currently has two exhibitions in New York at the David Zwirmer uptown and downtown galleries: Festival of Life. Kasuma has an incredible work ethic: in a New York Times article, Roberta Smith mentions Kasuma has “shifted her work week from five days to six, saving Sunday for writing, reading, talking on the phone and making smaller paintings.”
Kasuma has become renown for her “infiniity rooms” where she creates installations using mirrors to give the effect of a room with no beginning and no end, just dots to infinity; in other words: endless repetition. A Yayoi Kasuma Museum recently opened up in Tokyo and only 50 visitors are allowed to enter each day and even the washroom have polka dots. Doug Woodman in Artsy gives an overview of Kasuma’s rise to fame in the provocatively titled piece How Yayoi Kasuma Built a Massive Market for her Work. The secret to her success, in big part, was doing a lot of work over and over again and then making sure the world took notice.
When students are looking for new ideas, I tell them to repeat the last thing they made and new ideas will come from that. We often delude ourselves by continuously being in search of the next best thing. We are afraid we will become boring if we repeat ourselves. But I believe through repetition comes insight. And the beauty of handmade repetition is its impossibility. We can never repeat ourselves no matter how much we try. The thing we need to know, or are looking for, is always much closer at hand than we realize. We don’t need to search far and wide for great ideas, they are often right at our fingertips, perhaps even in the last work we made. Try it. I dare you. Take a work that you have already done and make another version of it. Notice what happened. It wasn’t the same. An old idea becomes a new idea through repetition.
One of my favourite John Cage quotes is: “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” Cage was actively involved in meditation practice and many others who do meditation can attest to the fact that repetition is a key to mindfulness: Why Repetition is a Key Element in Mindfulness Practice. There are also many artists who purposely factor in repetition in their work for a variety of reasons; some because it is a way to create focus and calm, others as a way to give a sense of chaos and excess. An article in Widewalls gives an overview of how repetition has been used in art: To Be Exactly the Same Over and Over Again -Repetition in Art. And another blog post also gives a list of the use of repetition in art: The Importance of Repetition in Art. Kusama is mentioned in both these articles. Kusama saw repetition as a way of making art. Repetition in the work and repetition of the work.  I am certain that she rarely experiences boredom with her dots no matter how many million she has painted or created through lights, sculptures or mirrors.

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