Since the advent of cinema, visual artists and filmmakers have worked in tandem, exploring intersecting ideas and aesthetics . There are many instances in which artists and filmmakers have inspired one another, however parallels between artworks and films are also found without this direct connection. The seemingly unrelated practices of contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama and the filmmaking duo know as ‘Daniels’ (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) can be drawn together in this way. Comparing Kusama’s sculpture The Passing Winter (2005) and Daniels’ film Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) reveals shared conceptual and aesthetic interests between these creators.
Determined to pursue art since childhood, Kusama is one of the most internationally recognisable artists. Her career spans over eight decades, working across diverse mediums such as painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, installation, video, performance, fashion and poetry. Throughout this expansive body of work, Kusama has consistently been interested in repetition, primarily polka dots, as well as creating the illusion of infinite space. These interests have culminated in Kusama’s ongoing series of mirror works  – mirrored lined sculptures or entire rooms that endlessly reflect lights or sculptural forms within the space.
The Passing Winter is part of this series of works. Instead of repeating lights or sculptures, the mirrors infinitely reflect the viewer back to themselves. The 80 square centimetre mirrored cube has three circular holes in each side, varying in size and placement. It’s positioned at eye level upon a glass pedestal, and viewers peer into the cube’s circular holes to see infinitely fragmented versions of their face. This creates the illusion of glancing into a liminal space between worlds, encountering various iterations of oneself changed by choices and circumstances. In this way, viewers are compelled to ponder the many ways their lives could have been different.
Visual artworks are not the only means by which audiences have been invited to consider “what if” questions about their lives and places in the world. Filmmakers have long been fascinated by alternate timelines and universes, and this fascination has played out across a broad range of genres. Recently, the concept of the multiverse has gained prominence in screen culture – the idea that there are an infinite number of universes existing alongside our own – with Marvel’s seeming monopoly over multiverse stories, however the concurrent release of Everything Everywhere All at Once has redefined audiences’ expectations of multiverse films.
The film centres on Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), a middle-aged woman stressed and disillusioned with her life running a struggling laundromat with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), while navigating her strained relationship with daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Amidst an IRS audit, Evelyn is contacted by “Alpha Waymond”, an alternate version of her husband, who reveals that the existence of all universes is being threatened by the ominous Jobu Tupaki. Provided with “’verse jumping” technology, Evelyn can access the memories and abilities of her parallel universe counterparts in her efforts to save her family across the infinite multiverse.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is Daniels’ second feature film. Beginning their collaborative practice in 2011, Daniels mainly created music videos and short films – including the viral sensation ‘Turn Down for What’ – before expanding into film with their award-winning debut feature Swiss Army Man (2016).
Daniels have described their filmmaking style as “maximalist” : an aesthetic style across art, film, literature and interior design that is characterised by excess. Everything Everywhere All at Once embodies this aesthetic to capture the chaos, absurdity, and limitlessness of a multiverse. Daniels achieve this through drawing on various film genres – including science fiction, comedy and martial arts – as well as referencing a diverse array of screen media: from Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love (2000), Pixar’s Ratatouille (2007), to the videogame Everything (2017) .
Although Kusama has previously dismissed categorising her work within broader artistic movements , The Passing Winter similarly aligns with a maximalist aesthetic in depicting the infinite multiverse. Kusama’s expansive imagery originates from vivid hallucinations that she has experienced since childhood. Objects within her field of vision infinitely multiply, making her feel “reduced to nothingness” . Kusama describes this phenomenon as "self-obliteration" , which she visually recreates in her art using polka dots. The Passing Winter features these dots, as the sculpture’s circular holes are endlessly reflected in the cube’s interior mirrors. For Kusama, polka dots also represent the immensity of our universe and the "infinite infinities"  that exist beyond it. Viewing works such as The Passing Winter can be overwhelming: the realisation that we are "only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos" .
Circles have a similar cosmic significance in Everything Everywhere All at Once. From the film’s opening shot of a small circular mirror, reflecting Evelyn and her family singing karaoke in their living room, circular objects and images are everywhere. More circular mirrors, washing machine doors, googly eyes, cookies, the circled tax receipt – all these signify the circularity of life that Evelyn has become dissatisfied with . Once Evelyn is thrust into her mission, circles are used to represent the immensity of the multiverse. Universes are presented as singular bubbles in Alpha-verse's verse-jumping technology. Moreover, the film’s existential threat is revealed as the “everything bagel” – a blackhole-like vortex Jobu Tupaki created by putting everything onto it. While it has the power to obliterate worlds, ultimately Jobu wants to use this to destroy herself.
Like The Passing Winter, Everything Everywhere All at Once can be an overwhelming experience. However, Daniels ground their dizzying, world-hopping adventure in Evelyn’s character arc ; viewers make sense of the many varying worlds through Evelyn’s perspective, as she comes to terms with the roads not taken in her life and, ultimately, embraces her life even in the most absurd realities. We experience a similar phenomenon when viewing The Passing Winter – making sense of Kusama’s kaleidoscopic sculpture through seeing ourselves reflected in it.
– Victoria Evans
Experience the reality-splitting wonder of Yayoi Kusama's 'The Passing Winter' at ACMI
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- Khan, Daniel (@dunkwun); "Thank you for saying this. I've spent most of my career ashamed of the fact that I am a maximalist filmmaker (connected to my, until recently, undiagnosed ADHD). I admired and envied the minimalist masters (like kogonada) but knew I could never have the confidence to do it." Twitter, 12 April 2022.
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