Chiharu Shiota/Jonas Burgert

Me Somewhere Else is the latest installation by Berlin-based Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota to use thread as its medium. It forms part of a two-handed exhibition with Jonas Burgert’s Schlagen und Bleiben. A billowing cloud of blood-red thread hovers over the ground floor gallery, anchored by a pair of bronze feet. These are casts of the artist’s own feet and their solid, weighted nature contrasts with the ethereal quality of the rest of the work. 

The thread is woven by hand, with simple yet intricate knots, chunky knots and some that appear to have been crocheted. Together they bleed over the gallery with end-pieces left to hang down. The striking, blood-red colour is highly symbolic. It alludes to the way we connect to each other and to the inner workings of the body with its veins, capillaries, neural connections and so on. 

Artist Chiharu Shiota pictured with her installation, Me Somewhere Else

The title of the show refers to the idea of a collective consciousness existing independently of the body – somewhere beyond, somewhere else. “When my feet touch the earth, I feel connected to the world, to the universe that is spread like a net of human connections, but if I don’t feel my body any more, where do I go? Where do I go when my body is gone, when my feet don’t touch the ground any more?”

Installation shot courtesy Peter Mallet

Elsewhere, Shiota includes two-dimensional thread patterns on canvas and rhomboid sculptures of interlaced strands arranged in a network of triangles. There is also a sculpture in which a dress, which she has made herself, is mounted within a box and encased by the familiar thread arrangement but this time in black. Black, for Shiota, represents the colour of the universe and the piece alludes to notions of memory, an important theme in her work.    

Schlagen und Bleiben

Schlagen und Bleiben

His pictures comprise enigmatic dramas played out in tableaux populated by humans and humanoids, fantasy characters, some with eyes missing, others insects with chrysalis-type torsos. German artist Jonas Burgert’s world is a disturbing one in which characters in death-like poses mingle with teddy bear-like creatures or aliens with spindly limbs. Schlagen und blieben, the large-scale work from which his exhibition takes its name, is the kind of picture you can stare out for ages trying somehow to construct a narrative from it.

It’s a vain task, of course, since Burgert’s nightmarish vision is to personify the psychology of human emotion. It’s this realm beyond our physical presence where we look for answers to our very existence that interests Burgert, and which, though in a very different way, chimes with Chiharu Shiota’s theme. ‘In our mind, we create existences as heroes, gods or clowns. They lead unbearably loud, malicious, cynical, witty and passionate lives, in wonderfully strange or terrible places. In my art, I merely try to paint the scene of this ongoing process of debate and negotiation, with all its peculiarities.’  

Installation shot courtesy Peter Mallet

Burgert is known chiefly for his intense colour works, often monumental – up to 28 metres long. This exhibition focuses on his black and white pencil drawings. They include several portraits of characters that seem to have jumped out of his larger works into their own self-contained frames. Some have a disarming beauty, albeit an enigmatic one. Mit Mir, for example shows a child’s face crowned in dead or dying leaves. Her hand is bandaged. He uses these ideas because they can’t be pinned down to any specific time period. Strange headgear is a recurring motif, other portraits depict contorted poses and extended limbs. One Egyptian-looking head has been defaced, literally. There are clear influences from the surrealists but with a modern twist. Plenty to get your teeth into. 

The two exhibitions are showing at Blain Southern Gallery, 4 Hanover Square, London W1S 1BP until 19 January 2018.

All images are courtesy of the artists and gallery.

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