Born in 1972 in the Japanese city of Osaka, has been living and working in Berlin since 1997. Using woven yarn, the artist combines performance, body art and installations in a process that places at its center the body. Her protean artistic approach plays with the notions of temporality, movement and dreams, and demands a dual engagement from the viewer, both physical and emotional. In recent years, Chiharu Shiota has been widely exhibited around the world, including at the New Museum of Jakarta and the SCAD Museum of Art, USA (2017), the K21 Kunstsammlung NRW, Düsseldorf (2014), the Smithsonian, Washington DC (2014) and Japan’s Kochi Museum of Art (2013). In 2015 Chiharu Shiota represented Japan at the Venice Biennale with her installation The Key in the Hand. In 2018, she is exhibiting at the Museum of Kyoto; and in 2019 she exhibited at Mori Art Museum in Tokyo throught a exhibition illuminating the artist’s entire works.

Could you explain the reason for describing your exhibition as ‘Tremors of the Soul’? 

Mori invited me to create a solo exhibition for the museum, the next day I went to the doctor and he told me that my cancer returned. My first cancer diagnosis was 12 years ago, but now it returned. During the preparation of the show, I had to do chemotherapy and an operation, and then I started thinking about my body and my soul. I felt like my body would stay here, but I thought about my soul, where does my soul belong? If my body dies, where does my soul go, that is why I choose this title.

How did you convert intangible expressions into forms? Do colors have a special meaning?

This is always the most difficult part, to change my idea into material. I try to separate myself from myself. If I work too emotional, I cannot make art, I think of myself as another. I leave my thought or feeling behind and then I touch materials and create. It is also difficult to explain.

I use red, black and sometimes white yarn. Red is like blood, it presents connection between people, their relationships. Black is abstract like the night sky or the universe. White is more eternal, an end and a new beginning, white also represents death in Japan.

You have selected a variety of special materials and objects for your impressive artistic work. What are your reasons for choosing these special materials?

I use many different materials, like suitcases, cloths, keys or shoes, everything that belongs to humans because these objects present the memory of those people – and I connect with yarn these memories. I make a web of connections. My main theme is ‘existence in the absence’, I am using these human objects, but the human being is not there.

Are there any series that are more impressive and special for you than the performances and installations in the exhibition? If there is, can you interpret that series?

In 2015, I was invited to represent Japan at the Venice Biennale. For the Japan Pavilion, I created the installation “The Key in the Hand”. Of course, since it was for the Venice Biennale, I felt a lot of pressure and I put all my energy into it. I collected 180 000 used keys from all over the world. Each old key was like a memory and the red yarn was connected to each key. Underneath the web of red yarn, I put old Venetian boats, the shape of the boat is like a cupped hand, holding the memory, holding the key.

Did you get the perception you expected as a feedback from the viewer?

I did not expect that 660.000 people would visit. The museum nor me expected so many people. It was the biggest exhibition since they opened the museum, only the grand opening of the museum was visited even more. I believe, many people that came in the beginning, came to take selfies and put on Instagram and Facebook, but I think many people came again, they first come to take picture but then they visit again to think more deeply about it.


Installation view: Shiota Chiharu: The Soul Trembles,

Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2019.

Photo: Sunhi Mang, Photo Courtesy: Mori Art Museum,Tokyo.

© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2020 and the artist.


Interview: Özlem Kan

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