Reflections on Life through Chiharu Shiota’s Between Us

red wool, chairs 2020

State of Being (keys), 2018

State of Being, 2018

Chiharu Shiota’s recent exhibition (August 2020) at the Gana Art Center was not as
crowded as I had expected when I visited it on a Saturday morning. Her exhibition was
a mesmerizing installation that created a fantasy-like red underground that made me feel like
entering a cocoon. I was first drawn to the exhibition pamphlet that showed its striking red color and big-scale installations. Curious, I stepped into the exhibition, excited about what artwork I would encounter. Chiharu Shiota uses the finiteness of human beings and their disturbing inner side as the subject matter of her work. She does not limit the inner self of humans and the world full of ‘uncertainty’ by using various art forms ranging from drawing to installation to performance. Shiota uses red color to tell ‘philosophies’ of the moment with its visceral installations. The red reflects the relationships; ‘Strings break, get tangled or tied together’ just as people cut relationships, are tied together or tangled.

One of Shiota’s representative series is a work in which a skein of a human blood vessel is
installed throughout space. Her large installations hung over the walls to the chairs on the floor.
Through the intricately intertwined threads like a spider’s web in one space, Shiota visually embodies the anguish of life and death as well as the quest for existence. Also, these threads mean the many thoughts that are related to each other as well as the surroundings and relationships necessary to confirm one’s identity. In addition, through the use of her threads, Shiota explores the existence and the inner world. As installations are discarded after the exhibition, the threads are cut, expressing the theme of life and death. She designated her memorable objects as part of one’s purpose of existence by intertwining nostalgic objects that remind her of the memories she had. The strings that hold her memories depict herself trying to attach and not let go of her nostalgia as she ages – an emotional aspect of reaching to death, where she starts to value the importance of her lifetime. 

Notably, Shiota’s main use of the theme ‘death’ in her works means a new beginning rather
than a simple ‘end’. Her thought intriguing themes and meanings behind her work inspired me to pursue such art of one my own, as these exhibitions allow me to reflect upon my past and identity. Shiota’s exhibition featured black, white, and red lines but among them, the most powerful was the red lines. As the title of this exhibition suggests, ‘Between Us’ focuses on the relationships between you and me, and us and our identities. Perhaps in the future, there could be other different colors of threads that may perhaps have different meanings.

During my tour of the exhibition, I noticed one visitor who constantly walked back and forth
to see the piece again. Wondering what her thoughts on the exhibition may be, I approached 
and asked whether she would be willing to do an interview. With Sehyun Park, a university student in Yong In University Korea, I was able to share my impressions about the artist.

What’s your favorite piece or what is the most impressive piece to you?
My favorite was the red room in which the wooden chairs were connected to the ceilings by the red columns of threads. The ceilings were arched from the new structure that the strings had created where you could only see the strong red. It seemed like a ruin as well as a majestic cave
simultaneously which is quite strange to understand unless you experience it.  

I saw you step closer to work for a better look. Why did you get closer? 
The red strings seemed like blood vessels, myriad thoughts, and inseparable relationships.  With
only a few strands of red, she could bring a message, or by tightening and twisting them,  she
could build a different structure.” [Part of the interview content]

Through the interview, I was able to see the exhibition through a different lens, which made
my reflections on the exhibition are multi-perspective and open-minded to accept more diverse
interpretations, such as the comparison of the red threads as blood vessels. This conversation with
Miss Park expanded my limited perspectives and provided me with an opportunity to share my
artistic interests and also give insight to others who have similar artistic tastes. 

This exhibition was a myriad of emotions and a sense of humanity that offered a connection with a dimension that aroused reflections and the course of our lives, especially regarding death. Perhaps because of Shiota’s personal experience related to death from her cancer, the exhibition could effectively illustrate and evoke questions about our own souls and their fragilities. After her
exhibition at the Gana Art Center in August 2020, her works thereafter were exhibited worldwide, especially many in Germany and Japan. Apart from her red strings of red, black, and white, I wonder whether Chiharu Shiota would use any other colors in her works, and what they may represent.

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