Tim Barnes

Observations surrounding Rebirth, an exhibition of Mariko Mori's work at the Royal Academy. - Jan 2013

Images can be found here:

A series of stellar explosions are happening somewhere in the universe, their luminous bursting radiates into a row of seated spectators and then recedes back to darkness. A supernova's brightness for a time, often out shines everything else in the entire galaxy and Mariko Mori's first piece, Tom Na H-Iu II, out performs much of the following exhibition. The glowing glass object illuminates according to data it gathers from Kamioka Observatory, responding to the neutrinos generated by supernova explosions that are the bright bursts of radiation resulting from the death of stars.

Mori has found an ambiguous way of producing an object that is very suggestive, never fixed, never still, and so in looking at this object I am in a state of uncertainty and openness. These are beautifully proportioned objects relating in a figurative but other-worldly way to the spectator. This is not over-intellectualized work, it should just speak.

The work in the following rooms occupy a barren middle, a wavering in-between zone that is less ambitious, having some kind of health-spa feel, revealing knee-high installations that are perhaps designed to spread your thinking out and loosen you up to quite weighty ideas. Connections with ancient Celtic traditions are only suggestive, grappling age-old cultures and beliefs towards Mori's almost techno-shamanic practice, with one foot in our world and one in another, explaining a universe that is continually in motion and changing.

Notably, the circle is a reoccurring motif and trailing through the exhibition is a clear celestial feel that finds voice in her arrangements, but her stone circle piece, Transcircle 1.1, is closed and uninvolving. I can walk in and amongst the stone circles of Swinside or Cork but not this one. The glowing glass objects are huddled round like a group of people engaged in tight conversation, their backs repelling the interested onlooker.

It is from allowing the viewer to wade through a swamp of ambiguity that the occasional spark of insight ignites lively and varying ideas form the spectator. This exhibition does have a wonderful human attribute, able to entice a spectrum of questioning, from material science to the spiritual and suddenly the exhibition is alight with the idea of the moment that flickers form point to point, always developing.

The exhibition seems to be a complete cycle, rounded off with the birth of a star, a hopeful flutter of light in a darkened chamber.