When the internet first became popular, people sometimes referred to it as the ‘world wide web’. The ‘www’ bit emphasised how this technology linked together companies and communication across the globe, creating a lacy doily of virtual threads.
For her latest exhibition, ‘Me Somewhere Else’, artist Chiharu Shiota has created the human, non-digitised version of that early utopian world wide web, a complex and beautiful series of artworks based on our connections to each other and to all the pre-internet parts of this planet: the land, the air and the strange matter making up our bodies.
Trained by Marina Abramovic, Shiota is best known for her work with thread. This show is no different, made up of a large-scale installation using a cast of the artist’s feet as the base for a massive, multi-layered maze of red rope. Shown alongside this are smaller watercolours, sculptures and wall-based works.
The simplified, graphic novel-ish paintings convey the feeling of being a tiny, person-shaped dot in an ever-expanding universe. Little figures are dwarfed by black holes and tornadoes while, in another, a spindly tree grasps the soil with its roots to stop itself blowing away.
But the main attraction here is the installation. The scarlet storm cloud bellows up to the ceiling, and drips down again in different length threads.
There’s a ‘femaleness’ to Shiota’s work, both in its use of weaving (a traditionally feminine practice) and because this installation resembles a giant bloody womb, with the endless knots standing in for menstrual clots.
Yet despite that gooey interpretation (you’re welcome!), you’re not put off the work; quite the opposite. The other way that ‘Me Somewhere Else’ joins the dots between people is by dragging them in off the street. Passers-by stop outside Blain Southern, gaze entranced through the window and, after a pause, come inside for a closer look. That’s what broadband providers call ‘connectivity’.