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Artist of the Day | Chiharu Shiota

Chiharu Shiota

In the Hand


Bronze and brass wire 13 3/8 x 11 x 14 3/16 inches


Chiharu Shiota's installations make the ineffable space between feeling and language material. Motivated by the omnipotence of memory, a signature medium of the Japanese artist's multi-disciplinary practice is yarn. In a conversation with Ocula Magazine in 2016, Shiota said of her use of yarn, 'It is soft and I use it like a mirror of my feelings... Yarn has tension like a human relationship.' As such Shiota confronts her own experiences by cultivating special spaces with a physical and emotional passage in mind.

Shiota's early studies at Kyoto Seika University, Japan were accompanied by a semester exchange to the Canberra School of Art, Australian National University, Australia, where her aims shifted towards amalgamating painting, performance and the body. No longer satisfied with art for art's sake, the next step for Shiota after Kyoto was Germany and an intense period of study under artist Marina Abramović, known for her performance practice that tests physical and emotional thresholds. Shiota's time with Abramović seeded clarity in her practice in both concept and approach, now prioritising the relationship between memory and objects as well as the power of absence. Her newfound ethos was apparent in her performance, Try and Go Home (1997), where she dug a cavity in the earth and rolled naked into and out of the space. Here, her interest in displacement and the affectivity of positive and negative space was born. In her conversation with Ocula Magazine, Shiota said, 'I think art is primarily about the eye. It is important to see art, and then have feelings, and then see meaning. Not come up with the meaning first.' Now settled in Berlin, more recent installations by Shiota are characterised by a mixture of performance, sculpture and drawing in space with found objects mostly woven into yarn-webs. From a collection of mismatched shoes to suitcases, dresses, keys, pages from a book, bed frames and doors, the materials she introduces have lived elsewhere but are summoned as an artery for a personal and collective psychological experience.

When Shiota suspends mementos in tessellating string, the viewer is led to think about both containment and protection. The Key in the Hand, presented at the 2015 Venice Biennale in the Japan Pavilion, carried this sentiment. In The Key in the Hand, plumes of red yarn were dotted with keys. These inverted waves floated above a series of boats like hands. While line and materiality are obvious keynotes in her work, colour is critical. It's not difficult to imagine that Shiota's continued use of red is emblematic of a journey, the movement of blood through our veins or the 'fated path' red string represents in Japanese, Chinese and Korean cultures. Red couples positivity and pathos. For example, in a red yarn installation Dialogue From DNA (2004) we are attune to both loss and the inevitability of change.

Shiota exclusively selects red, black or white yarn for the pregnant and hollowed spaces she creates. The metaphor is not didactic, her audience is invited to associate meaning or feeling with colour. Black has historically accompanied works exploring illness and death, such as Conscious Sleep (2016), for the 20th Biennale of Sydney, whereas snow-like threads swathe boats with a hopeful energy in Where are we going? (2017) and Memory of the Ocean (2017), both displayed at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, Paris. Prior to working almost exclusively with red, Shiota's use of black yarn and symbolic objects pointed to the inexplicability of the universe and pain. Works such as Memory of Skin (2000) saw inordinately long dresses hung high and constantly dripping with water. These dresses were a metaphor for cyclical thoughts. Installations that incorporated empty beds, such as During Sleep (2000), heralded a similar feeling. In these symbolic objects, thoughtfully framed by colour, the viewer finds cues to birth, sickness and death.

Shiota's life experiences—of leaving her country and facing illness as a young woman—are woven into her practice, which, in its grace, welcomes others to co-exist.

courtesy of

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