This was one of my favorite exhibitions at the Biennale this year. I’m into visually striking things that slightly confuse and massively inspire you.
This is the Japanese Pavilion at the Giardini and it was made by artist Chiharu Shiota. It features thousands of keys, all individually hung by red yarn, connecting boats across the room. Here’s more about the exhibition from the Curator, Hitoshi Nakano:
Chiharu Shiota: “The Key in the Hand”
Hitoshi Nakano Curator, Kanagawa Arts Foundation
Berlin-resident artist Chiharu Shiota creates large-scale installations by stretching yarn across the exhibition space, and produces works out of materials that are filled with memories and traces of everyday life such as dresses, beds, shoes, and suitcases. She is notable for her skilled approach to the large installation format, which has become a special feature of the biennale in recent years. But Shiota’s choice of materials and the spatial structure of her installations maintains a sense of preeminent beauty without losing any freshness or power, quietly permeating our minds and bodies. Shiota’s work, which transcends linguistic, cultural, and historical contexts as well as political and social circumstances, and deeply affects viewers from all over the world, has been presented and esteemed in approximately 200 exhibitions in Japan and other countries throughout the West, Middle East, Oceania, and Asia.
After being confronted with the deaths of several intimate friends and family in recent years, Shiota has converted these experiences into the lingua franca of pure and sublime art without averting her eyes from the reality that all human beings must face “life” and “death” but that each of us must do so individually. At times, Shiota’s work conveys a sense of the “darkness” that is inevitably contained in the “unknown world” associated with death and uncertainty. Even today, four years after the Great East Japan Earthquake, it is conceivable that viewers from various countries visiting a large international exhibition like the Venice Biennale will be overwhelmed by the “dark” parts of her work due to its associations with a country that has suffered deep physical and spiritual wounds. In Shiota’s work, however, there is a powerful “light” of hope and spiritual brightness that dwells deep within the darkness. This is a light that is inherent not only in the tremendous anxiety that plagues Japanese people but in the precarious state of things all over the world.
In this exhibition, Shiota will integrate the gallery, located on what is essentially the second floor, and the outdoor pilotis on the first floor of the Japanese Pavilion. Upon entering the gallery, viewers will find a space filled with red yarn. Attached to the end of each piece of yarn, suspended from the ceiling, will be a key. In our daily lives, keys protect valuable things like our houses, assets, and personal safety, and we use them while embracing them in the warmth of our hands. By coming into contact with people’s warmth on a daily basis, the keys accumulate countless, multilayered memories that dwell within us. Then at a certain point we entrust the keys, packed with memories, to others who we trust to look after the things that are important to us. In this work, Shiota will incorporate keys as a medium that conveys our true feelings. Moreover, she will place two boats on the floor beneath the yarn and the hanging keys. The boats symbolize two hands catching a rain of memories (i.e., countless keys) pouring down from the ceiling. While struggling and working with the hands, the two boats will move forward through a huge sea of memory as they collect individual memories. Along with a large box located outside among the pilotis that will be used to display a photograph of a child holding a key in the palms of her hands, four monitors will show videos of small children talking about memories from before and immediately after they were born. By listening to them recounting memories from the time of their birth and looking at keys containing an accumulation of memories, we will experience two different phases of memory in the spaces. Prompted by the exhibition, we will discover memories contained within us, some of which will unfold and stay with us, and help us to form links with other people.
I look forward to watching as The Key in the Hand, an installation that forges a link between a space made up of keys, yarn, and two boats, and photographs and videos of children, transcends national, cultural, linguistic, and political contexts, and emotionally arouses countless visitors from all over the world.