Storied Osaka: Art that Questions Life and Death

Interview with artist

Chiharu ShiotA

We first learned about Chiharu Shiota through a friend who had the opportunity to experience the artist’s work during one of her exhibitions, Counting Memories at Muzeum Śląski in Katowice, Poland. After diving into some research, we immediately became enamoured with Chiharu. Her theatrical and poetic installations leave you entangled with various emotions when examining her work. Through the use of complex and raw themes including life and death, Chiharu has allowed us to internally open up about certain feelings we’ve been experiencing, especially during the pandemic. With that being said, everyone can look at her art and have a different reaction, “I want the audience to feel quite free because art has no answer – everybody can see art in their own way. It’s nice when people can have a feeling apart from their ordinary day and feel something different”, Chiharu reveals.

Born in Osaka, Japan, Chiharu moved to Germany when she was 24 years old. After 25 years in Germany, located in Berlin, she has now spent half of her life in Japan and the other half in Germany. Chiharu describes Berlin as a big inspiration for her and her art, “When I first came to Berlin, there was construction everywhere and I began collecting old windows from old GDR buildings. I imagined that the people behind these buildings who have the same culture and language were being separated from each other, and only allowed to look at each other through the windows. That’s when I created my piece titled Inside-Outside.  

Inside-Outside, 2008/2019, old wooden windows
Installation view: Shiota Chiharu: The Soul Trembles, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2019
Photo Sunhi Mang, Photo Courtesy : Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2021 and the artist

Chiharu Shiota talks to Storied about why personal experiences, including her experience during chemotherapy, are important for her during the creation process, how Osaka and Berlin inspire her work, and what’s next for the talented artist. 

You focus on themes revolving around life, death, and relationships. How do your personal feelings and experiences help you during the creation process, and why are these themes important to convey through art?

Chiharu: I cannot make art without my personal experiences or feelings. To make art, I can’t just watch the news or read online content to make something – I need to make the experience myself. During my chemotherapy, I couldn’t explain my feelings or existence. It was a sterile hospital system and I felt like I was on a conveyor belt, where I was being taken apart and put together – I could not find my soul. Everyone has thoughts about life and death, but death is still unknown and you can’t explain it. I always have questions about death and the beginning of life. 

Are there any other themes you want to explore more of and incorporate into your artwork?

Chiharu: Now, I am working with the feeling and imagination of hope, and I don’t know yet what will be in the future. 

During Sleep, 2002, Performance / Installation: hospital beds, bedding, black wool
Kunstmuseum Luzern, Lucerne, Switzerland
Photo by Sunhi Mang, Copyright VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2021 and the artist

How has the pandemic affected your work and the way people interact with your art?

Chiharu: Normally, when I create an art installation, I travel to the exhibition space but because of the pandemic, I couldn’t go. I had to work remotely a lot (remote meetings, many emails), but this was also good. I didn’t think I could work like this, but now I have more possibilities, and I can do more work in my studio. I have a lot of time because of the pandemic – I feel relaxed but also frustrated because ten exhibitions were postponed. Depending on the country, people could visit exhibitions, but I also put more videos online, and the museums began to create 3D tours. It’s better to see the work in person, but there was no other choice. 

From your installations to sculptures and stage design, there tends to be a very distinct feature in a lot of your work, like this intricately woven thread. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that particular feature?

Chiharu: If you are living in society you are connected, but not all connections are visible. I want to make this connection visible with the thread. I want to connect memory and life. 

The Locked Room, 2016, Installation: old keys, old wooden doors, red wool
KAAT Kanagawa Arts Theatre, Yokohama, Japan
Photo by Masanobu Nishino, Copyright VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2021 and the artist

You’re originally from Osaka and are based in Berlin. Do you blend these two worlds together? How do you weave Osaka and Berlin into your work and how do these two cities inspire you?

Chiharu: I blend both worlds together many times. But I like having this feeling that I am between two countries, because when I am farther away from Osaka I can see myself, but when I go to Japan I can see more Berlin. The further away I am, the more I see myself. The first time I travelled back to Osaka after living some years in Germany, everything seemed so familiar but also different. I had left some shoes at my mother’s and even though they still fit me, they did not feel like they fit me anymore. I had changed and this inspired me to create Dialogue from DNA

Dialogue from DNA, 2004, Installation: old shoes, red wool
Manggha Centre of Japanese Art and Technology, Krakow, Poland
Photo by Sunhi Mang, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2021 and the artist

What’s the art scene like in Osaka? 

Chiharu: I believe they’re not so active in the contemporary art scene, but they invited me to make an installation titled The Infinity Line in my hometown Kishiwada at the beginning of 2020. It was very nice and many people came and they were very interested. 

Which artists have inspired you over the years? 

Chiharu: Many different artists have inspired including Goya and Ana Mendieta.

In your opinion, which artists should be on our radar?

Chiharu: There was a very good exhibition, Stars – Six Contemporary Artists from Japan at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. It included Yayoi Kusama, Lee Ufan, Tatsuo Miyajima, Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. It was very interesting to see how they connected with art history and how contemporary art appears in Japan, and how they left Japan but came back to show contemporary art. 

What’s your ritual during the creation process? Do you listen to music? 

Chiharu: There is no specific ritual, every work is different. During big installations, I have to set it up with a lot of people, and I put music on because that brings more tempo. I also listen to music sometimes when I am drawing.

A Long Day, 2015, Installation: papers, desk, chair, black wool
K21-Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Germany
Photo by Sunhi Mang, Copyright VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2021 and the artist

What’s next for you, any upcoming exhibitions?

Chiharu: So now, I am showing my installation I hope… at the König Galerie in Berlin but because of the lockdown in Berlin, the gallery is closed to the public. For this reason, I am inviting musicians, composers, and dancers to perform within my exhibition. These performances will be shown online. For me, it was the first time I created an installation where no one can visit in person, and this is a pity. You can only see the installation online. My solo exhibition The Soul Trembles will also continue touring and will be presented at the Taipei Fine Art Museum in Taiwan in Spring this year. 

Follow Chiharu Shiota and be free to feel as you please because as Chiharu says, art has no answer. // Instagram // Facebook

Featured image credits: I hope…, 2021, Installation: rope, paper, steel, König Galerie, Berlin, Germany, Photo by Sunhi Mang, Copyright VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2021 and the artist