Yayoi Kusama ©Tokyo Lee Productions Inc.

Organizers of the SDAFF’s eighth annual Spring Showcase closed its weeklong event with a special screening of Director Heather Lenz’s 2018 film “Kusama – Infinity.”

Kusama at Orez’65 ©Harrie Verstappen

Viewers entered the a journey through the life of artist Yayoi Kusama, most well-known for her Infinity Rooms and polka dot art. Behind the iconic installations was a very rough road she travelled to reach her current status in the art world. Kusama left her hometown of Matsumoto, Japan and the constant disapproval of her parents to try make her name in 1960’s New York. In the booming city of contemporary art, she stepped into a new dimension of installation art but others shrouded her work with their own takes, being the ones to claim the fame. The unsuccessful attempts to gain the “proper” recognition from those that dictated the art scene threw her into a deep depression, but Kusama kept making art in various form. The documentary showed how she went against conventions to bring her art and herself to the people.

Throughout the film, Kusama used the word “obliterate” to describe her art which it was interesting since she was relating it to her creations and works she forged into fruition. As mentioned before, she did not go with the norm and what she did and her identity was not found in that era’s society. Lenz and her production team were able to develop the right atmosphere in each of the different chapters of Kusama’s life. Composer Allyson Newman’s score along with the editing made viewing some of the pieces an ethereal experience. The combination also transported viewers into the past along with a small simulation of how Kusama saw things with her hallucinations. It was impressive to see the amount of interviews they had of Kusama’s peers, giving weight to her strife. “She tried to play by the rules” said Lenz regarding Kurama’s early attempts to make her name in NY. The film showed how Kusama had to break out beyond the gallery to gain a reputation, though it was more infamous. It showed proof that strong determination and talent will get you places but also that it is important to take care of yourself so that you can continue the pursuit.

Director Heather Lenz with editor Keita Ideno at SDAFF Spring Showcase. Taken by Faith Orcino.

I had the chance to speak with Director Lenz on “Kusama – Infinity” including how Lenz first knew about the artist. Lenz studied sculpture and conceptual art during her undergrad and through one of her professors, she got her hands on the CICA NY Kusama Retrospective catalog. Lenz also wanted to learn under Kusama but it would have been difficult due to the artist’s living conditions.

When asked about working on “Infinity” and its difficulties, Lenz mentioned that she first developed the script for a biopic in January 2001 soon after getting her MFA in Cinematic Arts. She shifted to a documentary since Kusama was still alive. She and her team had a hard time getting funding and said that the 2008 stock market crash was a serious hit to them. The crew dealt with many expenses including translators, travel and image licences. Lenz said when asked about pitching the film and getting grants years ago, “People didn’t know who she was.” It was shocking since she gained an iconic status thanks to the spread of social media. Lenz also dealt with pushback from others as a female director making a movie on “a foreign female.”

Along with Lenz, composer Newman and editor Keita Ideno attended the closing night showing. Osaka-born Ideno who graduated from SDSU in 1999 sent a statement regarding to his return to SD for the film: “San Diego is very special place for me. It’s the first U.S. city where I lived after I graduated from high school in Singapore. It was also the place where I learned film making at San Diego State University which led me to pursue a career in film editing. It was amazing feeling to be back and screen the film for my beloved San Diegans.” Another editor Shinpei Takeda who helped with the Japanese footage got his Masters at University of San Diego and co-founded the AjA Project, a program to help local youths through photography.

Associate Producer Shinpei Takeda with a Kusama pumpkin on Naoshima Island. Courtesy of Heather Lenz.

For those that missed out on this screening of “Kusama – Infinity” will have another chance on September 7th. Thanks to Magnolia Pictures, there will be a special screening in New York and Los Angeles. Lenz said both in our interview and post-film Q&A that it will be a final cut of the documentary and will have some different material compared to the festival cut.

Visit the documentary’s website for more information. Updates and news are available on their facebook page and twitter.

Check out the Spring Showcase’s site for the rest of this year’s lineup. Follow PacArts Movement for news on upcoming events and SDAFF 2018 this November.