“I had a dream”

How Berlin-based Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota is enchanting the art world.

Installation “Beyond Time” by Chiharu Shiota
Installation “Beyond Time” by Chiharu Shiota dpa

Ms Shiota, net-like installations made of woollen thread are your trademark. What made you want to use this material?
Originally I studied painting, but it didn’t give me the fulfilment I was looking for. I decided to go to the Canberra School of Art in Australia for a year. While I was there, I had a strange dream one night. I was part of a three-dimensional painting and couldn’t breathe, because I was covered in paint. This dream inspired my performance “Becoming Painting”. After that I knew I had to create art using my body. Back in Germany I felt very restless. When I was sitting in my bedroom one day, I started spinning black wool around me and that gave me the idea for my “During Sleep” installation. I started using wool to create spaces that have different meanings. With the black wool I aim to reconstruct the night sky or the cosmos, and with the red wool I visualise human connections and relationships. 

Chiharu Shiota in front of her installation “Lost Words”
Chiharu Shiota in front of her installation “Lost Words” dpa

You frequently spin wool around everyday objects in your installations. What significance does that have for you? 
I believe that the objects we surround ourselves with have a special connection with us. When I bought an old suitcase from a flea market in Berlin, I found a magazine dating from 1947 inside it and I could really feel the presence of the previous owner. When you get up out of bed, your body leaves a distinct impression in the mattress that is entirely different to that left by someone else. I find these aspects fascinating and seek to visualise them in my installations. 

The lines I create with yarn are like brushstrokes in a painting.

Chiharu Shiota

The “Bauhaus” was founded 100 years ago. In the weaving workshop women discovered how yarn finds a shape all of its own. What connects you to the art and design college?
The Bauhaus had a major influence on art and revolutionised the principle underlying art colleges, but I have no special connection to the Bauhaus. My art is indeed often associated with crafts trades and femininity, but the lines I create with yarn are like brushstrokes in a painting. Instead of using a brush and canvas, I work with yarn in the space.

Installation “Uncertain Journey” by Chiharu Shiota
Installation “Uncertain Journey” by Chiharu Shiota dpa

Your show together with other Berlin artists at the city’s Martin-Gropius-Bau begins on 21 March 2019. What significance does that have for you?
I have seen numerous impressive exhibitions at the Martin-Gropius-Bau and am delighted to be able to exhibit there myself. Despite having lived in the capital for so long, I have rarely exhibited in Berlin, making it an especial pleasure when I can stage a show in Berlin. For the Martin-Gropius-Bau I am creating a thread installation in the atrium. I will use the threads to connect the history of the building with present-day Berlin.

How does Berlin influence your art?
Berlin has always had a strong influence on me. When I moved to Berlin there was still so much to discover, a great deal was changing and I drew a lot of inspiration from the city, for example for my “Inside-Outside” installation. Eight years after the Wall came down Berlin was essentially one huge building site; some buildings were demolished, others renovated. Over the course of several months I went about collecting windows from former buildings in East Berlin. I have the feeling that windows separate the inside and outside and vice versa. Sometimes these two areas blend and I no longer know which side I am on. I’ve had the same feeling since leaving Japan.

Interview: Martin Orth

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