Fans of the artist Chiharu Shiota know her as a human spider, a woman who weaves objects and bodies into enormous, room-sized webs. Her traveling installation, “Over The Continents,” references this tradition. This month, visitors to the Freer Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C. will take in the sight of red lines shooting off hundreds of shoes to meet at a point in the sky above, like rays from a crimson sun.
Shiota — a protégé of Marina Abramovic’s — finds meaning in the everyday materials that bind us: the shoes we wear, the keys that jangle in our pockets. For “Over The Continents,” she collected shoes from flea markets, as well as friends and strangers. When possible, she asked donors to write notes explaining the shoes’ importance. Written in Japanese, they are translated into English, and are short and sweet.
For days, Shiota has arranged the footwear into a radiating shape. Using four miles of yarn, she’s then linked each piece to a hook dangling above, symbolic of “the shared [human] need for a point of origin,” according to the gallery notes.
Shoes became symbolic to Shiota when she left Japan in 1996 to study in Berlin, under Abramovic. Returning home was initially a comforting experience, but she soon felt conflicted. Neither place was exactly home. She felt “this gap in my imagination that reminded me of trying on old shoes,” she recently told The Wall Street Journal. “They fit, but they don’t fit me anymore.”
Shiota is Japan’s chosen artist for the 2015 Venice Bienniale. For that occasion, she’s designed another massive undertaking, collecting more than 50,000 keys for an installation on the meaning of human existence.