Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota impresses at The New Art Gallery

Size may not be everything, but 400 old suitcases suspended from the ceiling certainly make an impression.
The installation by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota at the New Art Gallery at Walsall fill a large gallery, and start off hanging near the floor at one end, and then get gradually higher so you can walk underneath. They are used and old, and you an only imagine the journeys they have made, and who their owners may have been.

Shiota’s exhibition is called Dialogues, and another large installation, Letters of Thanks, features a room where you walk through a tunnel created in a web of black thread, while letters are tied in to the mesh. The artist created it originally for an exhibition in Osaka, in which she had appealed for people to write letters to someone thanking them for things they could not say to the person’s face, and then send them to her to be included. It’s also large and impressively technically detailed.
Another room shows six short films showing the artist engaging with blood and earth, including smearing herself. They were apparently created after she suffered a miscarriage and as such are quite disturbing.
On the way out of the exhibition, I noticed in the foyer a speeded-up film showing the installation of the suitcases and Letters of Thanks works, showing a team of people working on creating them.
In the exhibition leaflet I read later the Head of Exhibitions Deborah Robinson wrote of being part of that team, and how rewarding it was to realise something that was “worthy of the artist’s vision”.
Naively I had imagined Chiharu Shiota suspending 400 suitcases from the ceiling herself, and knotting the 1,500 balls of wool used in the mesh – I felt a bit disappointed though realistically I can see that was never going to happen, but it does again raise questions about vision and creation, and how closely an artist is involved throughout the making of their work.
Still, an interesting exhibition and a good reason to make a return visit to the gallery, which is always worth seeing for its permanent collection alone.


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