Japan Pavilion at the 56th International Art Exhibition, the Venice Biennale in 2015: Curator's Statement

Curator's Statement

Photo of The Key in the Hand
The Key in the Hand
Photo:Sunhi Mang

Hitoshi Nakano Curator, Kanagawa Arts Foundation

Chiharu Shiota: "The Key in the Hand"

After capturing an enormous amount of wealth and power through two expansive agreements with the Eastern Roman Empire in the seventh and 11th century, and conquering Constantinople (the capital of the empire) as part of the Fourth Crusade in the 13th century, Venice enthusiastically took to the sea and set sail all over the world.

Through trade with other countries, the region enjoyed a tremendous amount of prosperity. And a capital of extreme splendor, Venice overflowed with immeasurable desire and despair, leaving people's thoughts, swallowed up by the city in a single gulp, to worm their way through the islands. In addition to these historical events and Venice's reputation as a festive spot, the Venice Biennale has firmly established the city on a global scale as the site of this international art exhibition. There is nothing new or novel about the rivalry that exists at many such exhibitions between topical works that deal with social events and political issues of the day, and large-scale installations that incorporate a diverse range of media.

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.

Using the international stage of the Venice Biennale, I present Shiota's new installation "The Key in the Hand" in the belief that it will speak and directly appeal to viewers' hearts.

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, some three 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 Japan 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 in the center of the yarn and the keys, suspended from the ceiling to the floor of the space. 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 three photographs of children holding keys in the palms of their 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.

Shiota refers to the expressive power of installations, which we experience directly by placing our bodies inside the work, as a "philosophy of the instant." She explains that installations "instantly capture the viewer's heart, and convey what it means to be alive."

Shiota will show her new installation, "The Key in the Hand," in the Japan Pavilion. The instant we step into the space, filled with red yarn and keys, and forging an elaborate relationship with the boats, we will be captured by Chiharu Shiota's world. I am looking forward to watching the space, photographs, and videos that embody this "philosophy of the instant" transcend national, cultural, linguistic, and political contexts, and emotionally arouse the viewers.

[Contact Us]

The Japan Foundation
International Operations Section 2, Arts and Culture Dept.
Person in charge: Ohira (Mr.), Sugie (Ms.)
Tel: +81-(0)3-5369-6063
Fax: +81-(0)3-5369-6038
Email: venezia@jpf.go.jp
(When sending an e-mail, please enter a half-width character "@" instead of a full-width character "@.")

What We Do