Over the years, fashion model turned artist Mariko Mori has donned everything from a mermaid outfit to teenybopper idol wear to metallic cyber costumes, all for the sake of art. Best described as pop art meets sci-fi, these obsessively self-aware works blur the line between creator and subject.
But for her exhibition in Hong Kong this week, which includes two installations from arguably her most celebrated works in the past decade - Rebirth, her Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington Gardens, London, show that wrapped up last month - the Japanese-born, New York-based artist explores an entirely different type of obsession: ancient Japanese and Celtic cultures.
Entitled Flatstone (2007) and Tom Na H-iu (2006), respectively, the works represent Mori's shift in focus away from herself as the subject and towards cycles of death and rebirth as inspiration.
In Flatstone, Mori reconstructs a mid-Jomon ceremonial space believed to be home to ancient shrines. The installation comprises 22 ceramic flat stones surrounding an acrylic cast of a ceremonial vase. The flat stones depict a narrow pathway that broadens into a ceremonial area.
According to Deitch Projects (the gallery that first hosted the two pieces in 2007) Mori was granted special permission from the Idojiri Archaeological Museum to reproduce the vase.
"While most vases of this type were decorated with fire shapes, the vase in the Idojiri collection is … ornamented with water imagery, connecting nature to the process of spiritual rebirth," says Pascal de Sarthe, curator of Mori's exhibition in the city and founder of De Sarthe Gallery Hong Kong.
Whereas with Flatstone Mori draws from ancient Eastern traditions, Tom Na H-iu, which is the Celtic name for the standing stone portals responsible for transporting souls back to earth, taps into the ancient Celtic practice of transmigration of spirits. A few versions exist.
The one on display at the gallery is a toned-down miniature version that de Sarthe purchased from a collector. At just 74cm tall, it is certainly dwarfed in comparison to its full-sized brethren, which was first featured at Deitch Projects in 2007 and more recently at Rebirth.
The smaller version lacks the nifty tech features found in the 4-metre-tall monolith structure that contains a network of LED lights which emit flashes and pulses in relation to signals received (via the internet) from a computer at the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, at the University of Tokyo, which monitors cosmological events.
As a pair, the two artworks offer an interesting juxtaposition of old-world artefacts from the East and West. And while she may not be the subject of these pieces, Mori's artistic presence is never absent.
Opens Mar 28. Tue-Sat, 11am-7pm, De Sarthe Gallery, 8/F Club Lusitano Building, 16 Ice House St, Central. Inquiries: 2167 8896. Ends Apr 28