Existence through absence

A talk with Chiharu Shiota.

You are trained as a painter, when have you decided to start using your woven technique and what role does it play in your practice?

When I was in the second year of studying oil painting, I felt limited when painting on the canvas, I felt that everything I painted, someone else painted before. But I wanted to use my own material. I left the canvas and wanted to use my own material for my art. With the thread, I am drawing in the air in a limitless space, I am creating three-dimensional art.

Is that true that you only use personal belongings as objects in your installations? Would you define you work as self only related narrative?

My art starts with my own story, my own private feelings or experience, but I want to expand this feeling because I think many people have the same emotions. That is why I collect items from many people like suitcases, keys, shoes, books, glasses. I never use new objects, only old or antique because there is always memory and stories from the person that the object belonged to. I want to weave the memory into the web. But I am also inspired by other objects like boats, which I use in installations.

Your installations are often very complex, how do you make a precise calculation of a time you need for the construction before the show? Does it always work? What was the longest?

The process of weaving the room is always the same, just the location is changing and the space or height of the room. In the beginning, it was very difficult to calculate the time, but after 300 exhibitions, it became easier to calculate how much time is needed. I also have a good team and they help and know what they need to do, some of them for over 20 years. The longest set-up was maybe one month. It was not such a big space, but it was a very important installation at the Venice Biennale in 2015.

I have read that your installation process is meditative to you, what is your personal connection between art and the spirit?

Weaving is a kind of meditation because I weave every day for 8-9 hours in the museum for the set-up, it becomes like meditation when you do it for so long, but I am still thinking, I am creating more a drawing in the air. I feel like I have always had a hole in my body and when I do art, I feel like I can fill my void. It feels like a missing piece, I am looking for something and when I do artwork I can fill this hole.

Could you speak about your recent, absolutely stunning “Navigating The Unknown” installation at König Galerie in London?

I am using boats in my work because of their architecture. Because of the shape of the boat, it is always going forward, just like humans. We always go forward, but we don’t know where we are going. We get a lot of information from the internet every day, but I feel like we don’t know exactly where we are going and have forgotten what is important in life. That is why I chose this title. We are navigating into the unknown because we don’t know where we are going.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment, I am in Taiwan and in quarantine for two weeks. I came here for the set-up and opening of the exhibition “The Soul Trembles” at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. This exhibition is part of the touring exhibition from the Mori Art Museum. It is the largest collection of works, including 6 installations.

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