Chiharu Shiota’s String Art Installations Highlight the Ties That Bind Us

Art & Sculpture Craft & Design
Chiharu Shiota’s String Art Installations Highlight the Ties That Bind Us
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Have you ever admired the glistening threads of a spider’s web in the morning dew and wondered what a super-sized web might look like? How would its many patterns, angles, and connections translate into reality? Chiharu Shiota’s signature art installations come close, utilizing many interconnected threads to explore abstract concepts of meaning and memory.

Born in Japan in 1972, Shiota has worked as an artist for the last 26 years in Berlin. She doesn’t often plan her pieces in advance, preferring to use the existing floor space as she sees fit. A single installation usually uses 250 to 300 kilometers of her chosen material — almost 200 miles worth of black or red thread, rope, string, and wool. For Shiota, the art process is not so much about the idea as it is about the experience. “The entrance is the most important part,” she says. “When I set up at the exhibition space, I create the path for the visitors first. Then, we start with the net on the ceiling and on the back of the wall, and then we connect it with the floor. I make art in the space, like painting on a canvas.”

Shiota also likes to incorporate hundreds or even thousands of everyday household objects into the mass of threads. Keys, stones, papers, glasses, shoes, clothes, boats, chairs, and more hang suspended in mid-air to illustrate the connected nature of even the most mundane objects in the human experience.
The size and scale of Shiota’s installations are impressive, but focusing solely on those aspects misses the most important part — the memories implicit in the empty spaces. “When I started weaving in an empty apartment for one exhibition, I asked the curator who lived there before, and they said an old woman. I thought about her life, how she used the apartment’s space, why she stayed there, and the traces she left behind — even though I’d never met her. Especially when people die, the memory stays.” 
Many of the ordinary items she includes were left behind at flea markets, and she chooses them because they were so important to their owner in life but have lost all meaning in death. “The material is not so important,” Shiota states, “but its meaning is much more interesting. Contemporary art has no concrete answer, and it’s important that everyone can feel differently.”

This article appeared in Make: Volume 88.

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Marshall Piros

Marshall Piros is a freelance writer, upcoming college student, and lover of all things retro, pop-culture, and sci-fi. Despite not being a maker himself, he is always happy to showcase the creativity of others. Born and raised in Santa Cruz, CA, Marshall spends his spare time reading, drawing, playing video games, and practicing the piano.

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