Chiharu Shiota’s new site-specific work for GB Commission resonates with the memory and spirit that dwells in the chapel of the former Armed Forces’ Gwangju Hospital. Referencing the history of the Democratization Movement and the human presences that lived through with this period of unrest, Shiota’s installation embraces these lives in an intricate entanglement of yarn and Bible pages, permeating both the ephemeral and physical remnants of the chapel.
The Christian mission that arrived Japan in the sixteenth century and its cultural influence—most notably on the local belief system and on human perception—is the subject that motivates The Language of God. Although many people accepted Christianity, Emperor Hideyoshi saw the new religion as a threat to social stability and a subversive power, and persecuted many of its followers. Moreover, people were not allowed to own a Bible or display the symbols of Christianity, to prevent the new ideological basis from spreading. This resulted in an increased significance of oral transmissions of faith. However, information transmitted orally is altered frequently, which caused many misunderstandings. The Japanese early Christians often incorporated an allegiance to the nature of Buddhism within the Bible; their beliefs were based on the Buddhist concept that renders human beings as being created in the image of a God who had come to live in the existing world.
“Our hearts, our souls and our feelings motivate us to move,” writes Shiota, “they are the energy of our decisions and our beliefs. The secret Christians wanted to believe in Christianity, but they had to change it in order to do so. This is mental immigration.” Shiota’s installation of floating Bible pages explores this concept of mental immigration, in which the act of adapting meanings into new ones plays a more important part than canonical Bible verses—“pages flow in the air, like lost words that end up in each individual’s mind.”
Chiharu Shiota (b. 1972, Japan) lives and works in Berlin. Shiota’s inspiration often emerges from a personal emotion which she expands into universal human concerns. She has redefined the concept of memory by collecting ordinary objects and engulfing them in immense yarn structures. She explores the sensation of “presence in the absence” with her installations, sculptures, drawings, and performance videos. Her solo exhibitions across the world include The Soul Trembles (Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2019); Embodied (Art Gallery of South Australia, 2018); Beyond Time (Yorkshire Sculpture Park, United Kingdom, 2018); A Long Day (K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Germany, 2015); Over the Continents (Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 2014) among others. She has also participated in numerous international exhibitions including Oku-Noto International Art Festival (Japan, 2017), Sydney Biennial (2016) and Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale (Japan, 2009). In 2015, Shiota was selected to represent Japan in the 56th Venice Biennale.