The intricate webs that Chiharu Shiota weaves are both immersive and tangible. Taking over entire galleries, museums, or historic buildings, the webs invite viewers to step into a world filled with past experiences and vivid dreams.
The Japanese artist spins installations out of black, white, and red yarn… ensnarling everyday objects to create huge masses that swallow everyday items such as keys, dresses, or books. Complex networks of yarn interlace around and between objects in a way that creates a new visual plane… and often times it looks as though it is happening mid-air.
This past summer, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo presented “The Soul Trembles”, a beautifully-done retrospective featuring the past twenty years of Shiota’s works. The best part is that six of the artist’s most personally inspiring installations were re-created across one floor of the museum.
The installation starts off with “The Key in the Hand”, from Japan’s pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale. It was this significant installation which brought Shiota international acclaim. We aren’t surprised… in the installation, 180,000 keys are suspended from the ceiling in a tangle of red yarn. Some keys hang alone while others are “caught” in rotting wooden boats as a storm appears to be coming in.
Shiota was born in Osaka and first tried her hand at painting while in art school. However this medium did not feel as though it was “part of her history.” She moved to Australia and then relocated to Berlin where she has lived for more than twenty years. While in Germany, Shiota studied under Marina Abramovic, a big influence in her future endurance-based performances. That endurance has proved vital for Shiota as it often takes at least two weeks to spin her installations. She says, “It can be very tiring, having to concentrate for such a long time.”
A site-specific installation for 2013’s Art Basel titled, “In Silence” is perhaps one of Shiota’s most famous. Her childhood recollection of a neighbor’s house burning down was the inspiration. “In Silence” portrays an abandoned piano concert; the piano features fire markings as it sits charred in the middle of an empty space. Two rows of empty chairs circle the piano symbolizing emptiness and loss. A complex network of interwoven black yarn covers the piano and the cluster of chairs.
The singed piano and furniture emit a melancholic aura; and the woven thread adds to the feeling of claustrophobia. There is no denying that witnessing the fire had a huge effect on Shiota as a child!
Memories are at the core of everything Shiota does. She knows that eventually, her installations will be deconstructed, sometimes permanently. The artist is comforted by the fact that memories of what they saw will remain with the viewers. Shiota says, “My work is always deconstructed at the end. But I never feel sad or disappointed because my installations live on in the visitor’s memory.”