Dialogues in Walsall – Chiharu Shiota

Dialogues is an exhibition built around personal experience. Memories, history, life and loss are encapsulated within Chiharu Shiota’s installations, videos and drawings. Inherently about being human, the body is absent in the literal sense as Shiota characteristically chooses to embed the traces of human experience into loaded objects. Responding directly to the gallery space, two new site specific installations are the jewel in the crown in this latest exhibition at The New Art Gallery Walsall.

The first of which meets the viewer as the lift doors open to the third floor gallery space.  Four hundred battered suitcases are suspended from the ceiling, tethered by red rope acting as an umbilical cord to each one, a metaphorical connection between people and accumulated experience. Memories are carried through life and may or may not weigh us down on our individual journeys. The physicality of the piece is immense, gently increasing in gradient the gallery is transformed into a stairway of suitcases, allowing the viewer to walk under and look up through the luggage to the bright lights beyond. Aptly titled Accumulation – Searching for the Destination (2014) the piece is reminiscent of ‘Jacobs’s ladder’ but what is coming up or down is not known.

Chiharu Shiota DialoguesChiharu Shiota Dialogues

Chiharu Shiota

Shiota has used suitcases in her past work, installations where the public is surrounded by stacks of luggage. This time, instead of being contained the viewer is either shadowed beneath, or overlooking the suitcases. There is a choice to be in or out of darkness and can fluctuate between the two.

Choice is no longer an option with the second installation. Letters of Thanks (2014) entangles the viewer in a web of black wool that took 18 days to produce. Representational of human relationships, the wool records the complexity of human interaction and the connections people create, guiding visitors through a tunnel that encircles a main central web. Caught within this are letters and drawings which the artist has sent/received from family and friends in Japan, held in permanent suspension. The space feels small, dark and close, but Shiota holds the viewer back from these letters, unable to get near them due to the cocooning black web; antagonising the opposition between closeness and separation.

Chiharu Shiota

Chiharu Shiota

Echoing distantly throughout the exhibition is the piano soundtrack for Earth and Blood (2014), a haunting series of videos that accompany the installations. In a white walled space the 6 channel videos respond to Shiota’s personal trauma of losing her baby through miscarriage. Using her hands she finger paints in red pigments in a childlike manner. It seeps into puddles and covers her hands and feet. In one particular video, the camera is zoomed in closely on the ground and there seems to be movement under the soil. Unsure as to whether something is going to grow out or burrow inwards. The soil begins to collapse in on itself, a losing battle. The piano soundtrack adds to this sad, moving story that Shiota is retelling.

Chiharu Shiota Dialogues

‘Dialogues’ is a vague title for an exhibition, with thousands of connotations. But this represents many aspects of the exhibition, from conception to realisation with the gallery, visitors and herself. Chiharu Shiota has created a hugely accessible show, projecting to a wider public sphere. Could this be the experiential effect? Art can transport people in to new, surreal environments, unimaginable to the confines of reality of which immersive installations create. The ‘experiential effect’ can place the viewer in a state of awe, potentially camouflaging the meaning of the work (think Hayward Gallery Light Show in 2012 which boarded on fairground) but the delicate dialogue between installation, drawings and video bring the viewer back down to earth, resonating with personal histories that engage the public on an emotional level, triggering personal memories of life, loss and love.

Chiharu Shiota Dialogues at The New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall, 17th Jan – 30th Mar 2014

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