23 July 2016


Yayoi Kusama, Self-Obliteration, 1967. Photo: Harrie Verstappen. © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of Ota Fine
Arts, Tokyo/Singapore, Victoria Miro Gallery, London and David Zwirner, New York.

I feel as if I were driving on an endless highway until my death. It is like continuing to drink thousands of cups of coffee served in an automatic cafeteria. I will continue to desire and, at the same time, to escape all sorts of feelings and visions until the end of my days.

– Yayoi Kusama

Kusama wants to become the most visible woman in the world by making herself disappear; that is the essence of her obsessive-compulsive behaviour, a triumph of illness.

– Andrew Solomon in Art Forum (February 1997)

100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms constitute that portion of the universe that we think that we understand, and these are the tiny dots that make up all the bigger dots.    

“The Earth is a dot. I am a dot. The Moon is a dot. The Sun is a dot. The stars are dots.” This is a statement from the never-resting mind of Yayoi Kusama (b 1929), the Japanese artist who conflates the clamorous inner life of her psyche with the universe’s gleaming cantos of unvanquished space. Her vastly energising/debilitating output is aimed to fill in every possible void, and to mitigate the terrors of these incomprehensible spaces, both inner and outer, in order to “create art for the healing of all mankind”.

Kusama is … unusual.

“We have tried to summarise all this on almost two thousand square metres. I feel that I could easily have four thousand to do this justice,” says Jo Widoff, the curator behind Kusama – In Infinity during the show’s stopover in Stockholm at the Moderna Museet and the adjoining Arkdes centre. Widoff believes that Kusama “almost moves parallel to the history of art, at any given moment. She approaches all the major currents of modernism, while never belonging to any of these schools. She makes ‘Kusama Art’. That is something else entirely.”

Pascal wrote in Pensées: “By space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom; by thought I comprehend the world.” This is really the core of what Kusama is doing. It is part of its nature that when something like Kusama – In Infinity lands in a museum it will turn the place upside down and inside out. People gather in here like savvy souls in an amusement park, between the attractions of the great museum pieces (in their enhanced museum setting) that have gone down in history, and the rides on the often zest-lacking repeats and reoccurrences that amount to much of her newer pieces. The repeat mode is of course a staple of Kusama’s many obsessions generated by the illness of her soul. (Of her own volition, she has been a permanent resident at the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill in Tokyo since 1977.)

“Nets and dots; obsessively repetitious-seeming forms that shapeshift as you look at them, from dot to fish to sperm to egg to coin to cell to microbe to planet; funfair halls of mirrors which turn surfaces, rooms, into a reverberating parody of light, dark, fluidity, eternity; huge gaudy monstrous flowers whose centres open to cartoon-surrealist eyes.” Ali Smith’s description, taken from Tate Etc (Spring 2012), is almost as swooshy and striking as Kusama’s art itself. Smith also pitches how Kusama’s predisposition to equivocate results in an art that is “all paradox and impossibility, presence that’s disappearance, despair that’s joyous, mechanism that’s human, lyricism that’s business, thanatos that’s life force, art that’s madness. Does she contradict herself? Very well then, she contradicts herself. She contains multiples.”

“Kusama Art”, sunny-side up, is about healthy coping throughout life – sunny-side down is the stuff of uninhibited narcissism and a mere reflection of the loveless fuckers in today’s self-absorbed culture. It is not a bad idea, however, to travel through this exhibition in reverse order. The Arkdes space – which in 1966 hosted Niki de Saint Phalle’s She – A Cathedral, a female figure of considerable size that the visitors could enter and explore through her vagina – is where you encounter a wonderful reinstallation of a floor piece with hundreds and hundreds of metallic silver spheres engaged in a sexless orgy.

Kusama introduced Narcissus Garden at the Venice Biennale the same year as de Saint Phalle built her supine giant in Stockholm. It is interesting that when Tom Dixon talks about his Mirror Ball lamp (2003) today, he calls it “a sort of failure in design terms”: “I thought that if I made the simplest form that I could get away with in highly polished mirror, it would be invisible because it would reflect the surroundings. That was the theory, and in practice it did the polar opposite. What it did was to very much be the focal point of the room, almost like a blingy object.” Narcissus Garden is everything but a failure. It is a grandiose piece of delusion for any narcissist who is seeking an acute sense of “Me”; it is the “mirror” that is important here, not the mirrored.

There is a very short Venice footage of Kusama in a kimono, it is actually golden, among the silver spheres (they were made of plastic then) – here with the three-dimensional dots on top of one another in the garden, and in the hands of the artist engaged in the illicit sale of these blingy objects for two dollars apiece. This wall shows two other works from 1966, both as a series of slides: the 14th Street Happening with Kusama on a bedspread of protruding shapes with polka dots (more about the phalluses and the dots later), the Princess and the Penises and the reactions from the passers-by. The social aspects of her work are at their best when we don’t have to bother about the awful hippies that flocked around her fame, “adored” her and dramatized her pubic dreads and wishes in public.

Kusama’s Walking Piece shows the artist on her own during a stroll in Manhattan in twenty-five frames. Dressed in a fancy pink kimono, she reinforced the image of “Japanese women” with animated mockery. “Kusama in effect staged her entry into modernist discourse by presenting herself as flamboyant and eccentrically feminine,” argues Kristine Kuramitsu in Decomposition: Post-Disciplinary Performance. “Broadly speaking, she simultaneously engages Western definitions of the East and Eastern definitions of the West.” (Compare the artist’s ambition and achievements with the inveterate nonsense of the Moderna/Arkdes exhibition brochure: “Kusama was fully aware that she was an outsider, as a woman.” Really?) The umbrella with the stuffed, drooping flowers makes her look like a figure from the fairy tales, “as elusive as she is matter of fact,” as Pamela Lyndon Travers described her own Mary Poppins creation.

Travers kind of described this work as well in a paragraph that she wrote for herself: “We are all looking for magic. We all need to feel we are under a spell and one day a wand will be waved and the princes that we truly feel ourselves to be will start forth at last from the tattered shapeless smocks. But indeed we have to wave the wand for ourself. If only we could refrain from endlessly repairing our defences. To be naked and defenceless. Oh we need it.” These pieces of Kusama, playing herself and being someone else, are touching, brave and beautiful.

Kusama – In Infinity is a wealth of information in addition to all the artworks. The long display case is full of snaps from the artist’s meticulously conceptualised career. Among these exciting installation photographs, invitation cards and much of the major press coverage from the 1960s, and her plane ticket from Tokyo to Seattle in 1957 (which makes you think of Warhol’s silk-screened and “Matissed” SAS Passenger Ticket to Stockholm, when he was all over the place in here in 1968), there are the words of praise that Herbert Read sent her and which she distributed handbill-wise at the Venice Biennale (too average to reproduce here though), and an uncommonly tender picture of Kusama and Joseph Cornell. Cornell was sort of the love of her life, next to herself, because he was impotent, supportive and overflowed her with attention.

Arkdes further presents a recent piece called Infinity Mirrored Room – Hymn of Life (2015), a go-through room of stagnated “Kusama Art” with dotted rice lanterns against mirrored walls and a pitch-black floor and ceiling. It is a relic but it’s a new relic. The prevailing sense of “infinity” that you will get in here is the feedback of been there, done that.

In her book on one particular installation piece by Kusama, Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field (1965), Jo Applin recounts how the artist “both worked with and against the contemporary milieu, addressing in various ways the burgeoning Minimalist object, the explosion of Pop Art across the US and Europe and the return to form of postwar ‘Surrealism’ that had been gaining visibility since the 1950s. Her work – even her large abstract canvases – were produced in direct conflict with modernist discourse that privileged the visual encounter over the kinds of engagement with art and its environment.”

Enter Moderna’s main portion of the show, it has a different breathing. The pace is changing from room to room, and you will soon recognise how the spirit of one set of works spills over to the next and then to the next, and so on.

But be warned, the doors to Kusama World will slide open to a disappointing overture with a gallery of sixteen gaudy, decorative paintings – with titles ranging from All About the Human Love (2015) to The Far End of My Sorrow (2015), from All About Joy (2014) to Suicidal Wishes (2015) – which all give the appearance of something between a parody of Magiciens de la terre (a much talked-about exhibition at the Centre Pompidou and the Grande halle de la Villette in Paris in 1989) and a fetish for the tenacity of horror vacui in outsider art. So this is what Kusama is up to today, besides rearranging old preoccupations. She dulls the edges of her pain with frivolity.

“There are so many things that art can’t do,” writes Olivia Laing in The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. “All the same, it does have some extraordinary functions, some odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate and enrich each other’s lives. It does have a capacity to create intimacy; it does have a way of healing wounds, and better yet of making it apparent that not all wounds need healing and not all scars are ugly.” This is the beautiful truth for much of the rest of the show.

“I see every thing I paint in this world, but everybody does not see alike,” William Blake expressed in a letter. It is a great move by the curator to arrange Kusama’s early painted works on paper from the 1950s in the following room – “a post-Surrealistic world” as Widoff chooses to call it – and to set the tone with a dark, blue wall colour. These works live on a cellular level – autonomous, quite remarkable little bits of the skies of her soul and the soul of her skies. Encounter (1954) with the hostile flowers and their bile, and the heavy background with an aggregating sky, is a sheer masterpiece that deals with a violated world and (to use the words of poet Adrienne Rich) “the unnamed harm to human relationships”. Kusama found her voice in the cosmic fugue when she began to paint the world as she saw it.

“When complications increase, the desire for essentials increases too. The unending cycle of crises that began with the First World War has formed a kind of person, one who has lived through terrible, strange things, and in whom there is an observable shrinkage of prejudices, a casting off of disappointing ideologies, an ability to live with many kinds of madness, an immense desire for certain durable human goods,” as Saul Bellow pronounced so beautifully during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1976.

“I was given a sad life by fate, but I think I won a happy life,” says Yayoi Kusama. She knew from childhood that art would provide her with comfort in life (and probably success) and help her carry on, despite the endless suffering “all thanks to feminism”. It is the mother that Kusama refers to here, an “extremely violent” and “shrewd businesswoman” who stymied and abused both Kusama and her dejected father in their hometown of Matsumoto on the main island. When Kusama finally was moving to the United States in 1957 to build an international career as an artist, her mother gave her one million yen – $25,000 in today’s money – and then froze her daughter off for good (as Bowie said on Parky, “Mothers fuck you up”).

Kusama was not like the other children in Matsumoto. Other children did not hallucinate with too-strong visions of biomorphic forms and vivid patterns, and the omnipotent dots – and the reticular structures around them – that rioted with her mind, overwhelmed her and wrecked her sanity. “Her illness is, in fact, a self-designated foundation upon which she has built a career,” writes Kristine Kuramitsu, also arguing how Kusama has emphasised the illness in order to establish the authenticity of her art: “Positing her insanity as a singular interpretive reference point also guarantees her originality; she cannot be influenced by, let alone be derivative of, other artists because of the entirely interior derivation of her imagery. This approach deftly foregrounds her obsessive mode of creation as well as her defiant and heroic independence.”

The Japanese Alps rises on the western side of the city. Sun sets in early afternoon in Matsumoto. When Kusama grew up she liked to dream about the world behind “those daylight-swallowing mountains”: “This childhood curiosity about unknown places developed eventually into a desire to see with my own eyes the foreign lands that were said to lie far behind those rugged mountains,” she tells in her autobiography, Infinity Net. “I envisioned America as a land full of these strange, barefooted children and virgin primeval forests. That was the place for me!” What she got was the hubbub of New York, “in every way a fierce and violent place”.

Matsumoto was indeed an isolated place. What Kusama knew about American art was through reproductions in some books about Georgia O’Keeffe (who is at Tate Modern through October 30, 2016), Morris Graves and Frank Tobey. Years before she sent her famous letters to O’Keeffe (“would [you] kindly show me the way to approach this life”) – you can follow their correspondence in the show through these very letters – Kusama went to an art school in Kyoto, as she told Bomb magazine (Winter 1999), “simply to flee from my mother’s violence. I rarely attended classes at the school there; I found the school too conservative and the instructors out of touch with the reality of the modern era.”

From 1950 and till she relocated to the US, Kusama acquired new shows every year (including six solo exhibitions) and gained some instrumental support from the poet and art critic Shuzo Takiguchi who helped her in Tokyo, where she also initiated her mind games with the press. On November 18, 1957, the twenty-eight-year-old Kusama headed for Seattle – where a show had been arranged for her – on a plane with two American soldiers and a war bride as the only passengers. Kusama had destroyed almost all of her two thousand artworks before she left Matsumoto for good. She had sixty kimonos to declare and her clothes and shoes stuffed with undeclared dollar bills when she entered US soil. “I was starting out on a crazy new life and was bound to run into trouble at every turn.”

“The truth is that, at the time, there was not even the hint of any renaissance or rising tide that would define the century. Nor was it easy to imagine that we were approaching some sort of critical mass. The only thing certain was that the future was up to us,” Kusama remembers. “It was clear to all that the New York School, which had prospered alongside the commercialisation of art, now needed to break new ground. But it was not easy for the young international talent gathering in New York to extricate itself from the spell of Action Painting [which] was all the rage then, and everybody was adopting this style and selling the stuff at outraged prices. My paintings were the polar opposite in terms of intention, but I believed that producing the unique art that came from within myself was the most important thing I could do to build my life as an artist.”

“And the ‘white nets’ that led me all the way to the mental institution – what good were they doing to me? Any number of times I thought of putting my foot right through those canvases.” Despite or maybe thanks to her quagmire, the desperate circumstances with malnourishment, cold and all the things that were going on in her head and which she had to battle with in her run-down studio home in New York, Kusama created her large and huge and stellar Infinity Net paintings in which “our very reason is lost in infinite wonders” (to quote astronomer Thomas Wright in 1750). Kusama’s notion of infinity is a principle that unifies as much as it obliterates.

“I woke one morning to find the nets I had painted the previous day stuck to the windows. Marvelling at this, I went to touch them, and they crawled on and into the skin of my hands,” she explains in the autobiography. “In fact, I often suffered episodes of severe neurosis. I would cover a canvas with nets, then continue painting them on the table, on the floor, and finally on my own body. As I repeated this process over and over again, the nets began to expand to infinity. I forgot about myself as they enveloped me, clinging to my arms and legs and clothes and filling the entire room.”

Kusama’s first solo show in New York was in October 1959 and her five Infinity Net paintings were a success (in Europe too) and she continued with the series for a few more years. The next room at the Moderna is pure museum but all the same astounding. 19th-century astronomer Maria Mitchell wrote in her diary: “We reach forth and strain every nerve, but we seize only a bit of the curtain that hides the infinite from us.” Each of these “infinite” canvas firmaments is a void of crammed nothingness, a vast space of creative monotony speckled with an endlessness of stars, particles – whatever. Dots.

When Italo Calvino wrote his short story “A Sign in Space” in the mid 1960s, he surely must have had the unique Infinity Net paintings in mind: “In the universe now there was no longer a container and a thing contained, but only a general thickness of signs, superimposed and coagulated, occupying the whole volume of space; it was constantly being dotted, minutely, a network of lines and scratches and reliefs and engravings; the universe was scrawled over on all sides, along all its dimensions.”

A long floor podium in the same room is strewn with dry pasta in various shapes. Imagine trying to tiptoe on a floor like this. It is like uguisubari, the “nightingale floors” in Japanese castles where the creaky floorboards work as a natural alarm system against intruders. Protected this way are a group of “accumulations”, “sex obsessions”, “compulsion furniture” – whatever. Phalluses. Kusama writes that she “began making penises in order to heal my feelings of disgust towards sex. Reproducing the objects, again and again, was my way of conquering the fear. It was a kind of self-therapy, to which I gave the name Psychosomatic Art.”

Think of Repulsion (1965) and the horrifying neuroses that turn Carol’s (Deneuve) psyche inside out with the male hands that grab her through the wall, and the skinned rabbit that is rotting on a plate. The few objects on the pasta floor, which were once a stepladder, a suitcase, a stool and women’s pumps are teeming with white, soft, male organs of copulation, like bulging barnacles of something strongly feared and yet much desired. (“I wanted to have fun the way some of my friends did, night after night, with one boy after another, all with different faces and skin colours.”) This perpetuating welter was unleashed in 1962. Pain and playfulness and thousands of cups of coffee formed coral reefs out of her obsession.

Jo Applin writes that “the ‘phallic field’ figured as a tumbling riot of tumescent forms, ranging from the short and dumpy to the long and spindly, providing an inviting and surprisingly springy three-dimensional surface”. There are photos and more photos of Kusama in jolly Playboy poses, mocking the image of “Western women”, as she rubs her naked or almost naked body in a “phallic field”. (It is likely that these pictures inspired the Pratone polyurethane grass chaise in the early 1970s.) Bulblike accumulations heaped into other things such as her costume design, which is also in this exhibition.

Donald Judd helped her acquire the rowboat that was the raw material for Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show (1963), an installation with this object completely covered by an overabundance of white, stuffed penises. The other boats in the show were the nine hundred ninety-nine wallpapered silver screen prints of the “biofouled” rowboat. Andy Warhol saw the show and thought it was fantastic.

The rowboat(s) piece at the Moderna is a restaging of the original installation from the 1960s, called Walking on the Sea of Death (1981), and it reads like a threnody. (It is easy to see where Warhol got his many ideas from. Of course we all recognise his Cow Wallpaper of 1966. Another thing he reprocessed was her serialised dollar bill.) Kusama – In Infinity also restages a smaller version of Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field from her famous Floor Show exhibition in New York in 1965, a somewhat controlled madness in which her accumulations had perpetuated into everything around her. Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field has mirror walls and a floor that grows (in Kusama’s words) “a sublime, miraculous field of phalluses”.

Jo Applin talks about Kusama’s “mix of playful chaos and psychosexual drama that was becoming a defining theme of her artistic output”. Kusama originally imagined how people were “wandering into this infinite wonderland, where a grandiose aggregation of human sexual symbols had been transformed into a humorous, polka-dotted field”. From here on Kusama has adorned and obliterated her world with polka dots (you can buy the tee-shirt too). “Though made of circular forms polka dots are not circular; rather they circulate like circumlocutions that both cover and expose. We recognise polka dots ironically as they are both discrete and indiscrete, closed and open, singular and collective,” as Jennifer DeVere Brody reflects in her book Punctuation: Art, Politics and Play. “Kusama’s polka dots connote collective movement, as they can never appear ‘alone’. Their singularity must be constituted as a series or a set.”

Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field is a padded cell and the polka-dotted penises are not just humorous. They look like badass Amanitas, or transmitters of something infectious. The “sexual revolution” of the 1960s, and what followed, meant that divisions of mankind behaved like they had never had sex before and that the end was near. The Beatles sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in 1964 – in 1968 the tune was “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road”. Kusama surrounded herself with a different set of wrecks than Warhol. The bogus commune of hippies that dropped out of their clothes and tuned into Kusama’s happenings – she estimates that she choreographed two hundred happenings during her fifteen years in the US – and (as with Dalí’s ménage) did the things that she was too disgusted to do herself, the atom heart mother wooed by her hippie electrons.

In the HBO documentary Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (2016), writer and Mapplethorpe’s former lover Jack Fritscher punctuates that “Robert was functioning” during this era of wild copulation, as opposed to so many other artists who screwed around so much that there was really no time for art. Kusama’s way of debasing herself was through an unstoppable campaign of self-promotion in which she managed to undo herself as an artist. The narcissism was (and is) her true madness. “Kusama, whose gross lust for publicity never leaves room for taste, managed to put on the year’s most boring freak show,” wrote The Village Voice for instance. “Kusama is definitely suffering from over-exposure.”

She talked about herself in third person (like Dalí). She had her hippies act out in inane ways, because it was the days of Serpico when bribing New York cops could get you out of any trouble. She ignited Kusama Fashions and the magazine Kusama’s Orgy. She founded the Church of Self-Obliteration (“On your trip, take along one of our bikini models”) and camouflaged her hippies with dots. Much of this appears so stale today – like her “love letter” to Tricky Dick Nixon on November 11, 1968. Here is an excerpt, she was thirty-nine when she wrote it: “Let’s forget ourselves, dearest Richard, and become one with the Absolute, all together in the altogether. As we soar through the heavens, we’ll paint each other with polka dots, lose our egos in timeless eternity, and finally discover the naked truth.” Joan Didion wrote about hippies in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968): “These were children […] less in rebellion against the society than ignorant of it, able only to feed back certain of its most publicised self-doubts, Vietnam, Saran Wrap, diet pills, the Bomb.”

“For people like me,” Kusama says, “it is difficult to live in Japan, except inside the mental institution.” She returned to Japan in 1973. Joseph Cornell had died, and so too her father, whom she also kind of loved. She came to Tokyo to receive treatment for uterine myoma and for Basedow’s disease. In early 1975 she was admitted to the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill. Outside the world of the hospital she has a studio and a condo, which also functions as studio. However, Seiwa is where she lives since 1977. The yard outside the institution sports a jam-packed rowboat by Kusama, another density of gargoyle penises turned cute and harmless and then creepy again, like the tree man illness.

Kusama’s art – and all that she did accomplish during the 1960s – was re-examined and appreciated with new eyes in the 1990s, after Alexandra Monroe’s Kusama retrospective at the Center for International Contemporary Arts in New York in 1989. Larger retrospectives were to follow in 1998 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In addition to that, Kusama also represented Japan at the Venice Biennale in 1993.

Andrew Solomon writes in his fine piece in Art Forum how “Conversation with Kusama is always theatre, and like any good theatre it is interesting at those moments when it lapses into clarity and directness.” From here on end with Kusama – In Infinity we get a fair sample of her 80s work from Tokyo. Most in this space is like sweet bells jangled out of tune. The paintings range from techno to beautiful, but they are never quite great. The sculptures, like the cactus-like stumps with their medusoid hairstyles, look more like works of therapy than art. The pumpkin theme leads us to the gamboge funfair room and its black spots all over the place, and a few steps that lead up to a peephole into an “infinity” of pumpkins all the way down. Does Mirror Room (Pumpkin) (1991) put you in another world? All the magic wands in the world wouldn’t bring this to life.

There are three big bronze pumpkins in the entrance area, siblings of her gamboge piece on the Japanese art island of Naoshima. (“I like the essential repetitiveness of form of pumpkins. They are like everything else I do but at the same time very humorous.”) Between 2012 and 2015, Kusama worked her way through Louis Vuitton’s concept stores around the world, and also worth mentioning is an installation in the show featuring a Kusama dummy in a dotted red dress in a forest of dotted, elongated octopus arms (which, unlike penises, are full of brain cells). This is a replica of the lower part of the shop window she did for the company’s Fifth Avenue store in New York, and it is so-so. But when she used her clarity and directness to turn the pop-up store at Selfridges in London into a floating palace of the seas, it was absolutely magical. She was absolutely magical.

“The canon of art is to make sense of seminal times, to pull insight from extremity and find universal meaning in uproar,” Jeffrey Fleishman recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times (July 15, 2016) when he reflected on the fucked-up times that we live in. “Our predilections both in popular culture and politics have increasingly turned tribal, as if a once-common language has broken into coded dialects that separate us from the other.”

This is so reminiscent of something valuable that Virginia Woolf wrote in 1938, something that seems to pound and reverberate in Kusama Space ever since. At the end of her very long essay “Three Guineas”, the British author urges us to dream the good dreams of the future, and listen to the voices of the poets “assuring us of a unity that rubs out divisions as if they were chalk marks only; to discuss with you the capacity of the human spirit to overflow boundaries and make unity out of multiplicity”.

Art for the healing of all mankind …

The day the circus horses will stop running around, we will be screaming, shouting, singing together with the freaks.

Yayoi Kusama, Compulsion Furniture (Accumulation), circa 1964. © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Ota Fine
Arts, Tokyo/Singapore, Victoria Miro Gallery, London and David Zwirner, New York.

Yayoi Kusama – In Infinity at the Moderna Museet/Arkdes in Stockholm through September 11, 2016, and at the Helsinki Art Museum October 7, 2016–January 8, 2017.

Down the slippery slope, sunk without trace, utterly destroyed.