'Chiharu Shiota is a spider-woman – one who clambers around in the skeins of our unconscious. In her best-known installations she weaves black yarn into hectic webs that take over entire galleries and in which personal objects are found cocooned. The Japanese Berlin-based artist has ensnared everything from the wedding dresses seen in last year's Walking in My Mind exhibition at the Hayward gallery, to a grand piano and childhood toys. In one of her sleeping performances, you might even find Shiota herself ensconced beneath layers of mesh.
'Born in Osaka, the artist moved from Japan to Germany in 1997, to study under the performance art maven Marina Abramović. For one of her early works, Try and Go Home of 1998, Shiota fasted for four days and then smeared her naked body with earth before taking to a muddy hole. With its suggestions of both womb and grave, the work hinged on feelings of loss and oblivion that have underscored much of her work since. A later installation first shown in 2000, Memory of Skin, featured similarly dirt-stained dresses, suggesting knowledge that won't wash off.
There's a similar push and pull between closeness and separation in her sleeping performances, where women doze on neatly arranged hospital beds beneath a canopy of black threads. However intimate watching these people sleep might have felt, the artist implies that we can never know what's going on behind their closed eyes.
"It would be nice to banish every trace of myself, my looks, my papers, my passport, and even my fingerprints," Shiota has said, "and only create my works in dialogue with the cosmos." While exploring the hinterlands between waking life and dream states and chasing fading memories, in Shiota's labyrinthine installations the passage into oblivion always feels close at hand.
'Sound of silence: When Shiota was nine years old her neighbour's house burned down; the following day the artist saw a charred piano amongst the ruins. This instrument that lost its sound has haunted the artist and inspired various works in which she sets alight to a grand piano, then displays the remains within an installation of black thread. '
SKYE SHERWIN, THE GUARDIAN
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