Forget yourself. Become one with eternity. Become part of your environment.”
There are many reasons why Phoenix sucks. The hellish summer heat, for starters. Our repressive police force, for sure. Terrible drivers, Scottsdale douchebags, gentrification turncoats (enjoy your filthy airport lucre), and at least a hundred other factors combine to paint a picture of Phoenix as some kind of minor circle of Hell. But there are a few things here that offer us respite and relief from all the bullshit that comes from living in the P-H-X. And one of the things that I draw the most comfort from is the knowledge that we’re the city that Yayoi Kusama’s “You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies” calls home.
If “Fireflies” was the ONLY thing in the Phoenix Art Museum, it would still justify the museum’s existence. Every time I go visit PAM, I make a point of exploring “Fireflies” at least twice. I can still vividly recall the first time I passed through it. I remember how disorientating the mirrored room was, how it seemed to be vastly more expansive than it actually was. And of course, I’ll never forget banging my nose into one of the walls as I fumbled to find my way out.
The simplicity of the room and the tremendous complexity it generates is astonishing. Suspending dangling strands of LED lights throughout the dark mirrored room, the twinkling array of lights it generates creates the feeling that you’re walking through the heart of the Universe. A dizzying variety of lights shine and blink all around you; they even get reflected off the ceiling and floor.
Whenever I pass through “Fireflies”, I feel like I’m drifting weightless and empty through the stars, lost in an infinite darkness. I feel like I’ve become ensnared in Indra’s Net, whose net is made of multifaceted jewels at each vertex. All the jewels of the Net reflected in all the other jewels. And in the midst of this black chamber of dim stars, my own reflection seems hazy and distant in the glass. My body, my soul, just another glimmering facet in the jewels of Indra’s Net.
Every time I enter, the dimensions of the mirrored room seem to change. Some visits it feels as vast as the night sky; other times it feels like being stuck in a psychedelic closet. I imagine it would be a magnificent room to trip out or fuck in; that’s probably one of the reasons why a guard is posted outside the exhibit. While I’ve never done either in “Fireflies”, I did get to kiss someone I loved while we stood in the dancing swarm. It was a transcendent moment, the kind of blessed instance where you forget yourself completely and feel like you’re a seamless part of someone else, of something else. No longer You but a greater Us, evolved from something to Everything.
If you live in the Valley and you HAVEN’T been obliterated in the dancing swarm yet, you owe it to yourself to get lost in that little room. We all need reminders that our city, our world, doesn’t completely suck. We all need to be reassured that there is still beauty and grace to be had; we all deserve a chance to free ourselves from the terrible gravity of just-getting-by and walk among the stars for awhile.
The Phoenix Art Museum does pay-what-you-want admission on Wednesdays from 3-9pm. Next week Wednesday the 22nd they’re hosting a family-friendly birthday celebration for the polka dot-loving Kusama (who is turning 88) with treats, make-your-own-Fireflies art, and a pop-up library.
Photo by Suzanne Nilsson
Ashley Naftule is a writer, performer, and lifelong resident of Phoenix, AZ. He regularly performs at Space 55, The Firehouse Gallery, Lawn Gnome Books, and The Trunk Space He also does chalk art, collages, and massacres Billy Idol songs at karaoke. He won 3rd place at FilmBar’s Air Sex Championship in 2013. You can see more of his work at ashleynaftule.com
Read more from PHX SUX: