Chi­haru Shio­ta was stand­ing inside Berlin’s old­est church, the St. Niko­lai Kirche, one late Sep­tem­ber day, putting the fin­ish­ing touch­es on a new site-spe­cif­ic instal­la­tion. She had filled the church with black yarn that thread­ed through the space to cre­ate webbed tun­nels. Thou­sands of sheets of paper — pulled from Bibles in 100 dif­fer­ent lan­guages — were tan­gled in the thick­ly woven net, as if blown in by the wind. The instal­la­tion, titled Lost Words, marks the 500th anniver­sary of the Protes­tant Ref­or­ma­tion, cel­e­brat­ed across Ger­many on Octo­ber 31. The com­mis­sion also marks the begin­ning of a new chap­ter for the build­ing — which is man­aged by the Stadt­mu­se­um Berlin Foun­da­tion — as it enters its new life as a con­tem­po­rary art cen­ter. Shio­ta, who is from Japan and has been liv­ing in Ger­many since 1996, was cat­a­pult­ed into pub­lic promi­nence with her grand-scale work for the Japan­ese Pavil­ion at the 2015 Venice Bien­nale. Titled The Key in the Hand, the instal­la­tion con­sist­ed of more than 50,000 met­al keys that were woven into a crim­son web of yarn — Shiota’s sig­na­ture prac­tice — that com­plete­ly cov­ered the pavilion’s ceil­ing. For this edi­tion of our Ori­gin Sto­ry” series, which explores the back­sto­ries of indi­vid­ual works of art, Shio­ta takes us through the process of trans­form­ing the cen­tral nave of St. Niko­lai church. 
Tell me about the pages from the Bible that you’re using. I want­ed to link it to the his­to­ry of Chris­tian­i­ty in Japan. In the 16th cen­tu­ry, Por­tuguese Chris­tians came to the island as mis­sion­ar­ies, but Chris­tian­i­ty was banned short­ly there­after. Japan­ese Chris­tians prac­ticed their reli­gion in hid­ing. You couldn’t pub­lish the Bible or even own one, so an oral tra­di­tion of the Bible devel­oped in Japan. I was inter­est­ed in how this oral tra­di­tion made the sto­ries them­selves migrate, from per­son to per­son, but also in the mean­ings that shift­ed through retelling. The pas­sages used here were cho­sen by the church, and all per­tain to immi­gra­tion, which is part of the con­cept, as I was think­ing about men­tal immi­gra­tion through storytelling.  What does reli­gion mean to you? I’m not reli­gious. My par­ents are Bud­dhists. Reli­gions are con­nect­ed, and also make con­nec­tions. Not specif­i­cal­ly Chris­tian­i­ty alone. The nets and threads rep­re­sent human con­nec­tions — some are inter­twined with each oth­er, and some cut off and get knot­ted again, going in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion. The black of the thread I used rep­re­sents some­thing uni­ver­sal, like a night sky.
And how did the invi­ta­tion to do this work come about? The Muse­um Niko­laikirche approached me with an invi­ta­tion to do a work on the occa­sion of 500 years of Ref­or­ma­tion. I came up with this idea, and they liked it. How long does it take to cre­ate a work like this? This took two weeks with a team of 15 peo­ple who have been work­ing with me for a long time, and who know the weav­ing pat­terns. Usu­al­ly, we have a net which we put on top just to give it the ini­tial struc­ture, but for this unique space, the net was not suf­fi­cient. We made every­thing from scratch. I can­not con­trol every­thing, so I have a lot of trust in the peo­ple I work with.
Do you have a spe­cial weav­ing technique?
No, any­one can do it!
How did you adjust the net’s design to fit the space? How much of the orig­i­nal sketch ends up in the final piece?

Before cre­at­ing an instal­la­tion, I have to see the space and be enveloped by it. I feel as if my body and spir­it tran­scend into a cer­tain dimen­sion. After this process, I draw a sketch and present my idea to the muse­um. But it often looks quite dif­fer­ent in the end.

What will hap­pen to the work after the instal­la­tion comes down next month? My work is always like this; after the show is over, it is cut and doesn’t exist phys­i­cal­ly any­more. Only in people’s mem­o­ry. There are a few per­ma­nent works in muse­ums and pri­vate collections.  Ori­gin Sto­ry” is a col­umn in which we exam­ine the back­sto­ry of an indi­vid­ual work of art. Chi­haru Shio­ta, Lost Words,” is on view at Muse­um Niko­laikirche, locat­ed at Niko­laikirch­platz, 10178 Berlin, through Novem­ber 19. Image cred­its: CHI­HARU SHIO­TA, Lost Words, 2017. Pho­tog­ra­phy: Michael Set­zp­fandt. Arti­cle link: here