Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota‘s highly acclaimed installations have been displayed in major cities all over the globe, from Paris and Berlin, to New York and Hiroshima.
Words by Zoe Hazel Thomas
Now anyone can come and experience Shiota’s work for free at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne.
Shiota’s signature medium is black yarn, which she spins around rooms and objects like giant spider webs. Her past pieces have featured hospital beds, giant dresses, shoes and occasionally herself. She’s even been known to sleep in museums cocooned in her own constructions.
The Berlin-based artist says the yarn is her way of ‘drawing in space’ and, stepping into her exhibition at the Towner, it’s easy to see why. Half of the room is encased in a wall of crisscrossed thread, like a huge 3D sketch. Visitors are given a choice of five shabby doors to open in order to step into the eerie ‘other side’.
According to gallery assistant June Nelson, these doors were taken from an old apartment block in East Berlin and installed to represent crossing a boundary between life and memories.
“It’s about interacting with the piece,” June explained. “It’s about stepping into this other dream world.
“The yarn is meant to represent neurons, or connections. It deals with the artist’s own neurosis”.
It took Shiota three years to develop Other Side for the Towner Gallery and 10 days to construct. According to June, the artist spent one day on-site laying the foundations, before leaving her three assistants to train a group of volunteers. The team then worked from the outside-in with 1,600 balls of wool, stapling threads to the ceiling, floor and walls to create the mesmerising geometric effect.
The result is an eerie other-worldly space visitors can enter and explore at their own will.
Public response so far has been largely positive. One visitor, Russell Dufton from Bexhill, said that although he didn’t understand the theory behind the piece, he thought it was imaginative, and he liked the effect of the shadows on the floor.
“We come to the Towner every three months or so,” he said. “My wife likes to sit in the cafe while I take a look around. My daughter has a degree in modern art so sometimes she comes with me and explains what it’s all about.”
Another visitor, a man from Eastbourne who asked not to be named, said that while he enjoyed the exhibition in its own right, the convoluted explanation printed on the wall bothered him.
“I’ve got a mixed opinion really. I like the experience, and the work that went on behind the scenes – but the description of the piece could be made up.”
Whatever the installation represented in Shiota’s world, the wonderful thing about Other Side is that it’s there for the taking. Visitors aren’t simply invited to look at the art, they’re given the choice to step into it and, from the perspective of those looking in from the other side, to become a part of it. You don’t need an arts degree to appreciate Shiota’s installation – just a sense of curiosity and a free afternoon.
Other Side exhibits at The Towner Gallery until January 5. You can hear award-winning Chiharu Shiota speak at the Towner on November 23 at 3pm (£6/£5).