TRANSLATION | Eugenia Yang
Human emotion is a complicated matter that is difficult to express and decipher. Chinese-American writer Bei Dao once compared life to webs and described time as a web weaver, braiding our emotions, memories, aspirations, and regrets into a forever expanding net that has no end. This concept aligns perfectly with Japanese installation artist Chiharu Shiota’s artworks. So what is the most moving about Chihara Shiota’s art? In the eyes of critics, it is her amazing ability to see the intangible and visualize them through concrete installations.
If We Die, Where Do We Go?
If we die, that means we no longer belong to this world, but the intangible—our emotions and memories—lives on. Perhaps in the process of quantifying life and death, to fully understand the artworks of Chiharu Shiota is not the main concern of the regular audience. Because there is only a fine line between understanding and not understanding; it doesn’t necessarily affect one’s thinking or perception. The multitudes of hanging boats caught in the tangles of white yarn symbolize our tenacity to continue sailing despite our fear of the unknown future. A regular in her artworks, the uniquely strong visualization never fails to catch the viewer’s attention. Chiharu Shiota chooses to use red yarn to depict past memories and the gloomy, unsettling feelings that come with it. And when it comes to expressing fear, the yarns turn black, a transformative detail that conveys and reflects upon the viewer’s perception.
The Trembling Soul
To find the existence of the intangible is a major theme in Chiharu Shiota’s artworks. In her years of preparation, she was simultaneously fighting cancer and turning her experiences into works of art. A brave fighter, she did not let her fear towards death diminish her creativity. A boat with only its bare structure left that follows the red yarn to embark on an “Uncertain Journey”— that’s how the exhibition came into shape. The surmountable red yarn radiates with a dazzling shine, as if some sort of energy is surging out of the boat. If we are able to find empathy when appreciating art, perhaps it will be our shortcut to peek into this ultra complex world. Chiharu Shiota hopes that in this way, her audience will be able to understand the beauty of life’s journey, the subtlety of the human soul, and what it means to be alive. By bringing carriers of our memories—keys, letters, hospital beds, dresses, shoes, luggages—and linking them with yarns, she is weaving together a painting in the air that profoundly expresses how she perceives pain, fear, and death.
Weaving Together a Land of Freedom
In the installation “Accumulation—Searching for the Destination,” we see around 430 old oscillating suitcases strung up by red rope, a call back to Chiharu Shiota’s “Key in Hand” installation seen in the Venice Art Biennale. Symbolizing the very journeys of people’s lives, the suitcases are displayed in the formation of staircases—embodying the nostalgia towards life journeys and hinting at the spirit of always climbing upwards. It is true that modern art may not be everyone’s quotidian; it may even be equivalent to obscurity, insanity, and the inability to blend in. And yet, despite the fact that we may not have the experience of creating an artwork, it is undeniable that we’ve all had moments in which we failed to find the right words to express our feelings. Tangling, weaving, deconstructing, the yarns reflect a corner of our inner world that depicts the many faces of human relationships. To Chiharu Shiota, the yarns and ropes are her personal, artistic dream world, one in which she is willing to invite her audience to step into.