A few hours to myself in Gothenburg, in the land of my fathers (or at least some of them), and a wander over to the Goteborg Konstmuseum. It’s always a joy visiting a local art museum – both for the surprises of the collection (here there were Picassos, Monets, a Braque and even a Henry Moore, as well as a sublime Rembrandt on loan, not to mention the fascinating collection of unknown (to me at least) Scandinavian artists) and for the temporary exhibition.

I’d never heard of Chiharu Shiota. But she’s fascinating. A Japanese artist a little younger than me now living in Berlin. And she’s got a thing about yarn. And the colour red. For just a few months her huge installation The Distance was on show, specially made for the museum. And quite simply, I. Was. Blown. Away.

It was impossible to capture these ‘thread drawings’ in a still. But I had the whole place to myself for a few moments and so I wandered around a bit:

Shiota weaves an impossibly vast number of intersections with red wool (evidently with the help of a lot of friends). It is on such a scale that one cannot encompass it. And within weeks it will be gone, never to be repeated in quite the same way. For it is entirely dependent on the space it occupies, with the yarn fixed to the walls with thousands of staples.

So here are a few jumbly impressions.

  • The fact that it is red seemed significant. She’s created a number of pieces over the years with this vividly coloured yarn (including a haunting box of keys suspended in it (see images). But the sheer scale of filling a whole gallery space was dramatic in the extreme. It evoked the infinite complexity of blood-supplying capillaries around a human body. It vaguely evoked fantastical participating in the journey of Lt Tuck Pendleton in the 1987 movie Innerspace.
  • Then there are the chairs dotted around the room, not completely random but evidently placed in considered relationships. The capillaries ensure that these relationships go deeper than simple proximity. They convey connectedness. Perhaps even inter-dependence.
  • As one enters the space, we are engulfed, subsumed into this weird webbed world. I’m always fascinated by the way that architects and designers can fundamentally change the experience of space simply by how it is filled. Empty ‘thin air’ (which one could say is the same wherever one goes) suddenly takes on a completely new but artificial form simply because of wall shape, ceiling height and decorative effects. No two creators will do the same thing with the same space. The possibilities are endless. Shiota has created an artificial cave, but a welcoming one. I wanted to spend an age in it – recognising that every movement within it creates a different view or experience of it. An almost every turn is surprisingly, startlingly beautiful. It feels like a safe space. Womblike, in fact. I was almost tempted to curl up into a foetal position. Almost…

It would be obvious to draw conclusions from this about the interconnectedness of things. But also, because of the chairs, of the interconnectedness of people. It’s a ready depiction of the John Donne commonplace about not being an island.

But the installation forced home that it’s not simply about the fact of inter-connectedness, but the consequences of that relationship. Because we are interlinked – as human beings we of course share (at the very least) biology and blood – what I do affects you, and in fact, will affect everyone else, butterfly-effect-like, in the end. A snip of the scissors here or tear of the yarn there and the effects will be felt (however slight) at the other end of the room. But we forget this. Or deliberately ignore it. Is that why the installation is called The Distance? There seems such a distance between people. But we are connected. And the consequences of our actions, for good and ill, ripple out to quite the distance.

And that is something that we western autonomous individualists would do well to give significant time to consider. No man is an island, entire of itself…

Here are a few snaps from the exhibition, including the key cube, and another space with suspended yarn boats (evoking the journeys made by the world’s refugees, especially those fleeing Syria across the Mediterranean in recent years).

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