Absent Bodies

We are all beings in this world of objects, surrounded by a reality which questions the ongoing relationship between the body and the mind. We live in our heads but our bodies connect us to objects in the real world, invoking memories through daily experiences. Memories are all we have, memories are the root of our creation as a constant being. Chiharu Shiota expresses the connection between reality and imagination using just one material- thread, blood red in colour.

Shiota was born in Japan, but has been away for almost twenty years. The artist currently works in Germany. Her journey to becoming an internationally acclaimed artist was achieved through her love for art and the relationship between the mind and the body. Absent bodies is an artwork made beautifully through an intense, thought provoking web of dark red thread. The making of the masterpiece took three days and was formed by seven people. At the end of the thread sit two lonely chairs facing you.

Absent Bodies by Chiharu Shiota

The chairs are quiet, but their body language invites you to utilize them. They’re so close yet too challenging to reach. The web of red thread to me represents noise- all the everyday noise every adult and child keeps in their head. This noise serves as a barrier between our thoughts and the real world. We know what’s right in front of us, what reality has to offer and it’s so close, but we are too busy mentally to connect with the world physically. If we remove all the noise- the red thread in our heads- then reality won’t seem so far away.

“I get inspiration from human life, that is the reason why I use everyday objects in my installations,” says Ms Shiota. “Human relationships and their connection to one another also inspire me, which is the reason why I use thread -aiming to represent those tangled, cut or stretched relationships.” The talented artist suggests that objects bring a sense of belonging to humans, and that traces are always left by the subjects who have lived in a house, worn a dress or a pair of shoes, or sat on a chair. People move and change their location but they can be seen through the things that they have touched. “I can see people through these objects and relate to their own personal stories and voyages. Human feelings such as fear, love, loss, happiness and gratefulness are conveyed through the objects and connected by the threads.”

Descartes once said “I think, therefore I am”. Meaning that all we really know is that we are existing things. Everything from the physical world including our body parts can be doubted of existence. Everything can be doubted except for the fact that we have to exist in order to doubt; this is the only thing we can be certain of. Hence, “I think, therefore I am”. Shiota brings the physical world to life through the use of objects in her art, and represents a relationship between the body and the mind that all of us can connect with. She conveys that even after an object is long gone, the traces that are left behind connect us through a simple memory. Even if you believe we are only thinking things and there is no physical world, Shiota demonstrates the existence and the beautiful relationship between both mental and physical things in a way which cannot be doubted.

Admirer of the art Shehmir Shaikh interprets the red thread as “arteries and veins” which are components of the soul. “To me this is thought behind an exterior. The chairs symbolize pondering, they are the core of your thought. They’re covered by this biological red exterior which is your body…it just kind of illustrates the coexistence of different aspects of your soul,” says Mr Shaikh. “The red arteries and veins come together to make up your mind.” The chairs are highlighted as the red thread does not cover them, leaving them in the spotlight almost representing a “lightbulb moment”.

Ms Shiota thinks of weaving the thread as classical music, and views this as an inspiration for her artwork. So the real question is, what is the artist’s understanding of the relationship between the mind and the body? “For me, the true connection between the mind and the body is the strong relationship existing between a mother and its child, especially in the mother’s womb,” says Ms Shiota. This is represented through different drawings that the artist has created.

At first they are haunting and dark to look at, made up of mostly black pencil. The drawings are not complex ones and would not have been very time-consuming. Although they do not focus on the little artistic details, they present a touching relationship between a mother and a child which provoke thought and emotion. The beauty of Ms Shiota’s art is that it attracts diversity. She leaves the meaning to the viewer’s imagination. Her work is open to interpretation and the viewer is invited to create the story that they want and relate to with the given prompts, rather than the story being set in stone.

Drawings by Chiharu Shiota- Anna Schwartz Gallery

Curatorial director of the Anna Schwartz gallery Anais lellouche has worked with Ms Shiota, and describes the artist as “highly prolific”. “Think about it like a constellation. In your mind you have all of these elements that are part of your thinking. The motherhood and childhood are elements and ideas that she splashes out in her work,” says Miss Lellouche. “She travels the world a lot, and she thinks about identity through displacement. She’s very introspective and her work is contemplative of quietness, she’s a bit like that- quiet and in her mind. But the outburst is what you see in her art.”

Miss Lellouche suggests that Absent bodies represents the absence of lives and the traces that people leave when their lives pass. “It’s quite a theatrical insertion and suggests that you’re viewing a scene that will unfold in the future, or has unfolded,” says Miss Lellouche. “It’s a window into a moment in time and to people’s existence.” The chairs reflect on an idea of domesticity. “She’ll use elements such as chairs, a piano, beds and they represent the traces that evoke the notion of home in a very imaginative and disembodied way.” The artwork is about people’s lives and the memories of the objects that they inhabit. Objects such as suitcases in her artwork signify “transience”. “The belongings that we have that migrate and leave traces of us in our homes.” Despite the solemnity that the art may suggest of the Japanese artist, she has a lighter side. “She’s really wonderful, funny and witty,” says Miss Lellouche.

Ms Shiota is most proud of the artwork “The key in the Hand” from the Venice Biennale in 2015. “It was extremely difficult to build up and the space was also complicated to deal with because of its features and big dimensions,” says Ms Shiota. “The feedback from experts and the visitors was very positive so the effort was worthwhile and I was very satisfied with the result myself.” The artist hopes to leave her trace in the world through her magnificent art, even if it is just a memory in our minds that will stay with us forever.

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