SHIOTA CHIHARU EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

August 29, 2020 5:06 PM

TWELV interviewed performance and installation artist Chiharu Shiota and discussed her personal and professional life, as well as her inspiration and what plans she has for the future. The COVID-19 pandemic halted many happenings, locally and globally. The virus however did not prevent Chiharu Shiota from making art.  In fact, Shiota says she is an artist 24 hours of the day, and staying home during quarantine allowed her to focus more on her work. Although she said it is difficult to plan ahead because of the uncertainty of the future, she said that she will participate in a group show in Korea and Italy, and will exhibit a solo show in Vietnam. Shiota, native of Japan but resident of Berlin, is an artist who is quickly growing in world-wide popularity and recognition for her work. Her work typically touches upon both Japanese and German themes, and she said that although she is influenced by both due to her circumstances, she is generally inspired by her life. The subject of Shiota's work is "existence in the absence". Her art expresses what she could not put into words. Shiota also opened up about her battle with cancer and how that influenced her work and allowed her to use her drawings as a diary.

1. Would you say that your art contains influences of Japan and Berlin, or have you transcended the need to represent homeland identity in your creations?

I grew up in Japan, but I am not making Japanese or German Art. I am influenced by Japan and Berlin because of my circumstance. I am inspired by my life. 

2. Will we ever see you make a return to painting?

I do not make oil paintings anymore, and I am not a painter. But I still create a lot of drawings. They are like my personal diary. 

3. I’ve noticed you’re very hands-on with the creation of your own art installations. Of course, you need the help of others but will there ever be a point where you’re completely hands-off and simply directing the process?

If I create an installation exactly the same as before, maybe you can make a video of how it is made, but it would not help because the next time everything is different. No one can see what is in my brain, and it is impossible to tell what I see. 

4. Getting married and finding love in Berlin, a home away from home, did that affect your art?

Yes, this is my life and my experience. It is always connected to my art. I am an artist 24 hours every day. 

5. It is obvious that you utilize colors, shapes, and patterns. Can people ever expect sound to be in a Chiharu Shiota artwork, is that something you’ll ever do?

No, I am not planning on working with sound. Some performance videos have sound, but the installations are too powerful. The sight of the installation is already strong, and if there would be sound as well, it would be too much information for visitors to process, too much for the brain. 

6. What motivates you to come to work? What inspires your artwork?  

When I was traveling, I had time to think in the airplane or on the train. When I have limited time but free time I think about my life and work. When I see the sky from the airplane, my mind wonders. 

7. Do you have any regrets with any of your artworks?

I have many. Art is never perfect. That is why I need the next exhibition, to try to make it perfect. 

8. Did you intend to stay in Berlin as long as you have or did that just sort of happen?

I wanted to come to Berlin, and then I happened to stay here, I met my husband, made a family. There is never an exact plan. 

9. Do you have a specific/certain creative process or paradigm to your work, or does each new creation differ in how you approach it?

Every space is different, and every ceiling and wall is different, but the process is similar. That is why I need to see the space at first, then I can make a plan. 

10. Dealing with ovarian cancer and overcoming it, how did that affect the themes in your art?

It influenced my work in many ways. For example, for a long time, I could not draw anymore, I think for almost ten years. But after dealing with cancer, I started drawing again. Before I was thinking about making drawings, but after the cancer diagnoses, I tried to make drawings without a technique, it was more about my feeling, what is inside. My drawings have become my diary. 

11. Do you feel there’s anything that you haven’t been able to translate through your work, emotions or ideas too complicated to properly display perhaps?

My work always expresses something I can’t explain myself. If I can’t explain, I make art – maybe my work comes close to explaining these feelings because I can never explain them with language. It is more explained by eyesight not by language. 

12. With me being someone that has a growing interest/belief in Shinto, a quote from you that really got my attention is “most of my work is about the memory in absent things”. Can you go deeper into that?

Yes, this is the theme of my work – ‘existence in the absence’. If someone dies, then suddenly you feel their existence more. The memory is stronger, even though the body is not there. The feeling or memory remains stronger. 

13. Leaving home and embarking on a new journey, was there any nervousness or doubts about heading out to Germany, or were you ready?

I felt very free, finally I left Japan. I felt ready. In Japan, I finished studying, but I was not invited to create any museum shows or gallery shows as an artist, I was too young. In Japan, at the time there were only private galleries to rent, and I had no money to rent space for my show. I was very happy to come to Germany to study again and continue to create art. 

14. Would you say that Marina Abramović (Chiharu's teacher in a German art school) changed your life? 

I actually wanted to study with Magdalena Abakanowicz, but I accidently studied with Marina because my friend mixed up their names – this mix up changed my life. 

16. The performance art training that you underwent, was it rigorous? And during that training, was there ever a moment where you wanted to quit?

It was not really a performance art training. The class fasted for one week. Others made sculptures, or paintings, I did a performance. I did not want to quit; it was hard but necessary.

17. What are your hard limits when it comes to performance art, I ask because I’ve seen that you’re willing to fast for days, go completely naked and more, so I’m just wondering where did you draw the line?

It is more about changing perception, like writing my name, just writing my name for one hour or to sit for one hour across from each other or to walk all day around the lake, it just takes a long time to do it. Our ordinary life is fast, we run and run, we are very busy, we never have time to write our name for one hour. If I want to do this for art, I will.

18. How important is family to you?

Very important because we do not exist alone, we need connection – I am connected to my husband and daughter, we share different countries (Japan, Korea and Germany) but are still strongly connected. 

19. With a global pandemic happening this year and people not being allowed to gather in large groups for quite some time, how does that affect your art, now and in the foreseeable future?

For me as an artist, it was perfect to stay at home actually. I could concentrate on my work, I did not have to travel, I did not need to go to the openings and just stayed home and worked at the studio, it was a good time for me. But on the other side, all my exhibitions were cancelled or postponed. It was very hard and difficult to plan the next steps of the projects and to reschedule everything. Now, I try to make more work at the studio and send it to the exhibition spaces. Normally, I would travel to the site and create the installation at the museum space or gallery space, but because of Corona I could not fly, so now I am trying to create new works at the studio. 

20. Can you tell us a bit about what’s next for Chiharu Shiota's artwork? What can we see in the upcoming project? What will be challenging?

Most difficult is still to plan everything since we don’t know what will happen in the future. Many exhibitions are not officially announced yet. But I will participate in a group show in Korea, and in Italy, and will exhibit a solo show in Vietnam in Autumn.

 

INTERVIEWED BY SPENCE JULIAN  

WRITTEN BY ZANNA SHAPIRO 

EDITED BY KAREN YABUTA 

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