Chiharu Shiota "The Soul Trembles" which just opened at the Gallery of Modern Art is her 300th solo exhibition, a remarkable achievement by anyone's standard but particularly from someone so young.
This is her largest show to date and Brisbane and the Gallery of Modern Art have achieved something truly amazing bringing it to us all. It is curated by Mami Kataoka from the Mori Museum of Japan, in collaboration with Goma and Reuben Keehan, who is the Asia Art Director for the Gallery.
Her life is as astonishing as her art. She came from a humble background where her parents made boxes for a factory. She knew from an early age that she wanted to be creative and she was talented in painting and drawing, so she went to art school in Kyoto.
She came to Canberra on an Arts program, where she realised she could not paint or draw anymore. Somehow they were empty gestures. Soon after she dreamt that she was the painting herself and in playing this out in her mind, she poured a tin of red enamel paint over her head. This was her first installation art form entitled "Becoming Painting."She was the painting herself. She said it took over six months to wash off.
In 1996, she went to Berlin and more by accident than planned, she attended a class by Marina Abramovic, who encouraged her students to explore their art and emotions radically, sometimes by not eating, being naked or rolling in dirt. Chiharu found this very challenging and missed Japan very much and she had to address questions in her mind about who she was and where she came from, as well as where was home. Universal themes on a personal level.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, she noticed people leaving the East to go to the West, abandoning homes and possessions. She started collecting old windows on her bike and some 2000 window frames later, she installed an art installation that asked the questions about what was seen through the windows, the horrors and perhaps the joys. The lives lived on both sides and how the windows themselves became imbued with their own life. This installation was called "Room of Memory" and has been recreated in the Gallery.
She returned to Japan to exhibit her dresses, which she made by herself in a collective exhibition in Yokohama in 2001, when people were beginning to notice her. The dresses were 7 metres long, muddied, were washed by showers and while the human forms were no longer present in the dresses, they were like second skins because that memory of them could not be erased. She says "Our first skin is human skin. Clothes make up our second skin. if so then isn't our third skin made up of our living spaces?"
The exhibition has a large display of a burnt piano and chairs set out as if a concert is about to take place. They are covered with black yarn. The inspiration for this piece came from a childhood memory of a house being burnt together with the piano. And while the piano was now silent there was a memory of its music in the universe.
Chiharu started using yarn and used objects which have a life of their own and she connects them with her threads. They started off being black - a bit like the sky at night connecting the parts with the universe but soon she was also using white and red. The red is more the energised lifeblood that flows out of her works. In 2010 she made "Where to Go What to exist", which is recreated in the gallery, talking about the displacement of people and lives.
This is one exhibition where words might not adequately convey the effect of the installations. I suspect this might be a personal one for each visitor.
To say they come directly from her inner being and thoughts, which she is able to share with us, is as far as I can venture. Listening to her talk in simple but clear language about the ways in which her art speaks to her is a lesson for all those listening as we know that what is displayed touches each one of us differently. She wanted to find out how children responded to the question of what is soul, so the end of the exhibition is a section of small videos of young children being asked that question - it was a heartwarming way to finish this emotional roller coaster of an exhibition.
This exhibition is ticketed and it is on until the 3rd of October 2022.