Chiharu Shiota weaves infinite stories in her site-specific installations

Copyright Isabelle Arthuis

Born in Japan, Chiharu Shiota studied painting in Tokyo before being educated under Marina Abramović at the Braunschweig University of Art in Germany and completing her schooling at the University of the Arts in Berlin, the city in which she now resides. A desire to draw in the air led her to use yarn – usually black and red – in her work. She makes large-scale, site-specific installations that involve threads woven from floor to ceiling, enmeshing everyday objects such as beds, dresses, musical instruments and keys. After representing Japan at the Venice Biennale in 2015 (Frame 106, p. 130), Shiota presented a solo show, Sleeping Is Like Death, at Galerie Daniel Templon in Brussels earlier this year. During a performance at the opening, three young women appeared to be asleep in hospital beds.


Photo Daniel Hofer

How did you become interested in using yarn in your work?
CS: When I was a student, I was in the painting department and I wanted to a draw – but in three dimensions, not two. So I started making lines with string in the air – in space – when I was about 20.

You use black or red string in your installations. What do these colours signify for you?
CS: Black is the universe. It’s like the night sky – deep and dark. Red is something inside, like the body or blood. Red is what’s inside me, and black is what’s outside. The two come together in my work.

How would you describe the process of making an installation?
CS: I have 70 per cent of what I do in my head before I start weaving, but the final result always turns out to be different from what I’d envisioned. I rely on my imagination and try not to make drawings first, because when I draw something, I feel that the work is already finished. I like to bring materials to the site and start making something there. Things made in the studio beforehand are less dynamic, and often they don’t fit into the space. My work is more about drawing in the space by weaving than about responding to architecture. My eyes are still those of a painter.

You first made an installation with beds in 2000. What led you to revisit the idea in a more open, dynamic style for your exhibition at Galerie Daniel Templon in Brussels?
CS: The bed is important to me. Many people are born and die in a bed, making the bed the beginning and the end of life – and a place filled with stories. I wanted to make an installation with beds, but in a new style. When I sleep, I sometimes feel that I can’t wake up any more. And when I do wake up, even though my brain is working, I’m still dreaming. It’s this kind of world that I wanted to create, within a space that would show dreaming, reality and movement. At the gallery in Brussels, people could walk into and through the installation, whereas the piece I made in 2000 kept them outside, where they could only walk around it.

How does this installation differ from The Key in the Hand at the Venice Biennale?CS: There it was about weaving from the ceiling downwards. The threads carried the weight of the keys, a combined load of one tonne. In Brussels I was able to extend the woven threads across the dimensions of the space. The work was freer, like a wave, and had much more feeling, so that dreams could envelop the sleepers.

How do you choose which objects to use?
CS: I pick ordinary things that human beings use every day, like a key or a suitcase. I travel a lot, so I often use a suitcase. Seeing either of these objects conjures up memories and stories, which inspire me to start weaving.

How do people respond to your work?
CS: I would say that people generally feel they belong to my art pieces, as they often talk about how engaging my installations can be. My goal is to express human emotions through my objects, and people tend to find my work touching.

Chiharu Shiota is showing her work in one of the Artist's Rooms at K21 in Düsseldorf until July 31st 2016.

This interview first debuted in Frame 110, alongside other perspectives on people. Find your copy in the Frame Store

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