Chi­haru Shio­ta : Absent Bodies

Andrea Goldsmith
Australian Book Review, 12/10/16
There have been a hand­ful of occa­sions in my life when I have stood before a work of art intend­ing to look at it, appraise it, only to find myself drawn into it. In some strange way I become part of the work. It is as if my imag­i­na­tion has merged with the imag­i­na­tive space of the art work and, at the same time, any mind-body split has been dis­solved. I have, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, a vis­cer­al and imag­i­na­tive response to the work – the heart rate increas­es, the stom­ach plunges – and yet I am strange­ly incor­po­re­al. I am all mind, all sen­sa­tion. It is a pure, orig­i­nal, all-con­sum­ing expe­ri­ence. The first time this hap­pened I was stand­ing in a large room at the old Tate in Lon­don, the walls of which were cov­ered with huge Rothkos. I was wrapped in Rothkos. Then, all of a sud­den there were no edges and I was float­ing in these paint­ings and pound­ing with their rhythm. Even more extra­or­di­nary, I was filled with a type of know­ing that, for some­one with a strong intel­lec­tu­al bent, was stag­ger­ing­ly new. The sec­ond time, also in Lon­don, occurred at The Cour­tauld when, for the first time, I saw the genius of Cézanne, saw the planes and shad­ings, saw the land­scape throughCezanne; it changed the way I have looked at land­scape – real land­scape – ever since. The third time was walk­ing through Kathy Temin’s large work My Mon­u­ment: White For­est’ . I was absorbed into this large instal­la­tion so pro­found­ly that I was trans­port­ed back ten years to a vis­it I’d made to Auschwitz-Birke­nau – one of the places, I would lat­er dis­cov­er, that had inspired this work of Temin’s. There was no pri­or knowl­edge here, no inten­tion, rather my imag­i­na­tion and the imag­i­na­tive space of the art­work merged. It has just hap­pened again with Absent Bod­ies by Chi­haru Shio­ta. This beau­ti­ful art work (154.54.5 metres) takes up half the space of the Anna Schwartz Gallery. It is a huge com­plex web, or rather webs con­struct­ed from smooth red yarn. The obvi­ous anal­o­gy is the net­work of neu­rons in the brain, the long axons, the gan­glia where nerves meet, blown up to the size of a small house. But to reduce Shiota’s work to mere phys­i­cal pres­ence is to leach it of pow­er and effect. Shiota’s art work knows space, pos­sess­es space in the way, say, of the Grand Canyon or the open vis­tas of Antarc­ti­ca – or, indeed, the unfet­tered imag­i­na­tion. The tan­gle of red string cre­ates an envi­ron­ment. Even though you stand at the edge you enter it (and yet phys­i­cal­ly you can’t enter it because the strings, criss-cross­ing in all direc­tions, would stop you.) Again, that sense of an imag­i­na­tive space being coter­mi­nous with your imag­i­na­tion. Where the threads meet and cross one anoth­er, they are not knot­ted – there are no knots in this tan­gled envi­ron­ment – rather they twist around one anoth­er. Through the mid­dle the threads thin out, may even dis­ap­pear, cre­at­ing a tun­nel that leads to two chairs at the end; they are vacant, they are wait­ing for you. This is an envi­ron­ment of com­plex­i­ty and pos­si­bil­i­ty, just like the imag­i­na­tion. It’s all about con­nec­tion and space, cre­ativ­i­ty and insight. And it opens a fourth dimen­sion – not time (in fact time is sta­tion­ary in this sort of unreg­u­lat­ed expe­ri­ence). The dimen­sion run­ning along the con­scious­ness – uncon­scious­ness con­tin­u­um releas­es the imag­i­na­tion itself, a numi­nous pres­ence that simul­ta­ne­ous­ly envelops depth and motion, mem­o­ry and for­get­ting, expe­ri­ence and insight. This art­work becomes you.
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