Artist Chiharu Shiota Explores an Inner Net-Scape
SNA (Tokyo) — Artist Chiharu Shiota is Japanese, and deeply so, but at the same time she lives a very international life. Her installations and performances address hot issues that question exile, displacement, identity, sickness, and all their respective boundaries of fear and anxiety.
The artist has said that her work refers to ‘spaces of absence’ when, in fact it’s also very much about memories—memories discarded by the societies that once hosted the individuals enclosed within its margins. Do their souls still tremble amongst the shadows left by their disappearance?
At Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum, The Soul Trembles, billed as ‘the Largest and Most Comprehensive Exhibition Ever Illuminating the Artist’s Entire Oeuvre,’ was held last summer and autumn. It was a feast for the senses, while also no less than a detailed map of her awareness of a turbulent century.
Since Shiota’s childhood, her parents noticed their daughter’s talent for drawing and painting. Thus Shiota attended the Kyoto Seika University, and first launched her career as a painter. It was not long before the artist felt dissatisfied. She intuitively sensed that the act of painting wasn’t enough. Instead, she desired to become a painting herself. Her quest to abolish the frontier existing between the artist and the canvas led her to ponder how to metamorphose into the art product itself. To keep a distance between her vision and the working elements wasn’t truthful enough. At that moment her conceptual evolution emerged.
She spread enamel painting all over her body, intending to blur existing boundaries between the artist and her tools, canvas and paint. Shiota’s aesthetic revolt had begun, as witnessed in her subsequent performances and videos, presented at the Mori Art Museum exhibition.
Eventually, Shiota discovered the power of using string to convey her ideas. She began drawing in space. Deeply subjective 3D meshes emerged. A sort of suspended, abstracted, calligraphic net that was to became her trademark.
These took the form of installations woven by her hands, out of yarn. At first view they may appear almost randomly put together, but upon a closer look these reveal an underlying pattern consisting of varied triangular shapes.
Shiota may take hours of intense work or months to complete one of her pieces. It’s never a fixed process. The artist favors red thread for it represents blood, the equalitarian substance that connects all living beings, humans, and animals. Moreover, according to an Asian tradition, red has a significant meaning for it is believed that our lives are determined by the red string of fate.
She also creates installations out black yarn and, more recently, white thread.
In 1989, Shiota was studying in Germany when the Berlin Wall fall. She promptly visited East Berlin where she felt prey to the barrenness of its dim avenues, cripplingly punctuated by abandoned household items. She brought back hundreds of window frames from the uninhabited mono-blocks. These bare frames prompted Shiota to build an installation demonstrating that the separation between exteriors and interiors is merely a deceptive construction. She illustrates that being watched while simultaneously watching back are one and the same totalitarian proposition.
Another piece displayed at the Mori comprised a collection of empty chairs around a burned piano. Do these objects stand for a recital staged for long gone music-lovers of whom not even their shadows remain? And, what do you make from her six-meter-long pale dresses encased inside glass boxes?
Shiota interconnects various objects, such as clothing, shoes, and suitcases, enmeshing these in her red, black, or white webs as part of her visual language.
These objects carry memories, narrate stories. They may even possess a DNA of their own.
Thus Shiota creates spaces where she narrates absence. What she conceives and conceptualizes concerns us all. Her installations interlink space, objects, and the performer together with the audience.
It’s easy to feel lost, to be absorbed by her visually rich and poignantly meditative universe.
The more our souls tremble under the impact of Shiota’s oeuvre, the hardest it becomes to depart the spaces she created. A feeling akin to that of being cornered in a captivating cosmogony detains us. Ultimately, these large works are symbols of an elusive journey. The same uncertain journey that we all tread upon.
For the very core of her imagination lies in the intent to invoke the ‘presence in absence.’ The trembling of the soul… I, the viewer, could not but reflect upon my own inner world while wandering through Shiota’s mystical net-scapes.
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