Contemporary art is gaining its new forms as new visual artists enter the stage. We are no longer admiring the complexity of colors on the paintings, beautifully and so realistically painted faces that seem common to the traditional art. We are rather entangled to the emotional side of the modern art pieces, experiencing bewilderment, gripping moments of excitement and even shock. Chiharu Shiota, a Japanese Germany-based artist is by far the best of all at dropping a bombshell of astonishment on you right at the gallery.
Chiharu is an unusual artist. Her installations remind of a giant neural network filling the whole exhibition room, made of thousands of threads. Threads are either black of red, representing different things and concepts for the artist. Mostly, they are the live symbolizations of human connections with the universe. Hundreds of them.
Shiota started out as a student of painting faculty at Seika University in Kyoto and had an exchange semester at Canberra School of Art in Australia. It was at that time when she made her first performance in 1994, called “Becoming Painting”. Back in those years, painting was just some color on the canvas for Shiota, and she was seeking ways to improve this kind of art and make it more personal. So she wrapped herself in white canvas and had red paint poured on her. This performance was not yet the exact Shiota that she is now, but nevertheless a start.
She moved to Germany two years later and began studying arts in Berlin with Marina Abramovic being her mentor. Abramovic became Shiota’s inspiration and was rather perceived as an artist, not a teacher, who greatly influenced Shiota and brought her to the starting point of her thread works.
Shiota’s immersive installations practically make you hold your breath, even when you see it on a photo. Thousands and thousands of red threads are crossing each other multiple times, creating something like a spider web. Why threads? As Chiharu recalls, during her university studies she realized that two-dimensional painting was not sufficient anymore, and she started trying to explore the limitless three-dimensional space around her. This is her very own art, which allows Shiota to explore breadth to an extent like traditional artists explore their blank canvas with a painted line.
“A thread to me is an analogy for feelings or human relationships. When using it, I do not know how to lie,”- says Shiota. ”I can create unlimited spaces that seem to me to gradually expand into a universe. When I can no longer trace a yarn installation or art object with my eye, it begins to feel complete.”
Black or red, those hand-crafted systems of connections convey different meanings to the artist. “I imagine the threads as delineating either a personal or a universalized space. Black threads refer to a more universal, all-embracing space — like a night sky, or the universe — and in my works, the color black suggests universal truths and ideas that tend more towards the abstract. Red, on the other hand, with its associations to blood, suggests lineage, the physiological way in which we trace our ancestry and origins, and by extension all the interconnections within society.”
The art pieces that Shiota creates are often traced to her past and childhood memories, dealings with anxieties, remembering and oblivion, and her deep attraction to usual household things. She is not the kind of creator that gets suddenly hit by an idea — conversely, it can even take years for her to live and grow the concept in her mind before starting to create an installation. She does not design her works and then gradually puts them into reality — Shiota has to first see the place, feel the breadth of space, and here is the idea, right in her arms, which she would be later tracing the yarns with.
“The Key In The Hand” represents two wooden boats and thousands of keys hanging from countless of crossing red threads. For Shiota, a key in a hand is an opportunity. Boat represents this hand, and keys are opportunities, tiny bodies, memories. Shiota does not know whom the keys belonged, but she is certain: they contain memories of the people who owned them. Threads, in turn, connect the keys with the memories they convey.
“Keys are familiar and very valuable things that protect important people and spaces in our lives,” said Shiota. “They also inspire us to open the door to unknown worlds.”
Shiota is known for giving life and human-like connections to usual things, which you would not pay much attention to in your everyday life. Her installation “Dialogues” is the very example. Hundreds of suitcases are attached to threads. Here, the threads represent lines on which they move on an adventure or going home.
“Dialogue from DNA”, which was first shown in Poland and later recreated in Germany and Japan, also relates to how familiar and everyday objects fade away in their meaning. The installation is made up of shoes tied up to red yarn, each having a handwritten note about its owner. The idea came to Shiota when she traveled back to Japan, put on her older shoes and realized that they no longer fit. As she wanted to explore the gap between her feelings and shoes, she asked different people to donate shoes that are somehow meaningful to them.
Chiharu Shiota relies on the emotional effect her artworks create rather than giving them a rational perspective. She is not eager to explain the idea of the installation beforehand: otherwise, everything risks to be misunderstood and overthought. She rather wants people to experience the whole palette of emotions, from anger and tension to surprise and astonishment.