To coincide with Chiharu Shiota’s current exhibition Where Are We Going? in Paris, here we look at her textile creations and investigate the way she uses thread as a way to explore memory and belonging.

Japanese born and Berlin based artist Shiota is best known for her thread installations, which entangle objects, people and the viewer in complex webs of belonging. Focused on themes of remembrance and oblivion, she creates points of connection between her own personal history and that of other human and non-human actors that she enrols in her work.

Where Are We Going (2016) (photo: Gabriel de la Chapelle) is a a two-part installation at the heart of the French department store where suspended boats represent vessels sailing towards unknown locations.

The second aspect of Where Are We Going (2016) (photo: Gabriel de la Chapelle) invites visitors to enter the threaded tunnel to explore mysterious destinations that pinpoint each of our individual and collective lives.

‘People move, travel, change, but they leave their mark on everything they touch and use: clothes, shoes, furniture, houses. I can see people through these objects; I can recognise who they are or who they were through the objects they have used, or the books they have read,’ explains Shiota. ‘Objects are constructions of the self, and at the same time they are constitutive of the subject that lives through them.’

For the installation Uncertain Journey (2016) (photo: Christian Glaeser) in Berlin, the nexus of red yarn alluded to the interior of the body and the complex network of neural connections in the brain.

In this respect, her sculptures seem to be physical manifestations of ‘actor–network theory’ developed by the likes of Bruno Latour and Michel Callon, responding to the rhizome-like philosophy laid out by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Rather than neat divisions between categories, this branch of philosophy sees the world as an unknowably messy network of interconnection, constantly in the process of becoming and undoing. It’s an approach that has come of age in our technologically networked world.

In Silence (2008) (photo: Sunhi Mang) was an installation in Switzerland which saw Shiota’s threads engulfing the piano and chairs with skeins of silk rising off them.

Having trained under performance art doyenne Marina Abramovic in Germany in the late 1990s, there’s an emotional rawness to Shiota’s approach to sculpture. ‘A thread can be cut clean or knotted, or a loose loop sometimes becomes tangled. The thread can stand-in for feelings or human relationships, and I do not know how to lie when I’m using thread. If I weave something and it turns out to be ugly, twisted or knotted, then such must have been my feelings when I was working.’

For the Japan pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale, The Key In The Hand (2015) (photo: Sunhi Mang) was an elaborate entanglement of red wool and 50,000 keys dangling above two ancient looking boats.

The skeins of thread that rise up off grand pianos, wedding dresses and hospital beds give the impression of a thick smoke, or electrically charged currents that leap from surface to surface. They are physical reminders of the invisible structures that constantly buffet our bodies: impossible to see or address, but all the more powerful for it.

Shiota’s current exhibition Where Are We Going? runs until 18 Feb 2017 at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche.

Location 24, rue de Sèvres, 75 007 Paris, France