The Key in the Hand by Chiharu Shiota (Venice Biennale 2015)

From two old boats bursts a complex web of slender red wool string from which 50,000 keys are suspended. Chiharu Shiota’s (塩田 千春) installation at the Japanese Pavilion of Venice Biennale 2015—The Key in the Hand—is a work of breathtaking, inviting beauty; you can’t help but reach out to touch a key.

Chiharu Shiota: The Key in the Hand

A key in the hand can represent a chance in life. How many chances are you holding? How many chances have fallen away? What doors will your keys open?

The above photos were taken at the Central Pavilion of the the Giardini at the Venice Biennale 2015. Click on any of the photos to open them in slideshow view. To find out more about this art installation you can view this interview with the artist.

Chiharu Shiota:State of Being

Chiharu Shiota; State of Being (Dress); Metal Frame, black thread and dress; 2018; Galerie Templon; Art Basel HK

I came across some other works—a series entitled State of Being—by Chiharu Shiota at the Art Basel (HK) exhibition in 2018. These are much more intimate in scale: dresses and masks encased in rectangular cuboids of black thread within metal frames.

Chiharu Shiota; State of Being (Mask); Metal Frame, black thread and dress; 2018; Galerie Templon; Art Basel HK

Regarding the meaning behind the color of the thread, in an interview with Art Radar, the artist states:

I started out with black string. Black is the color of ink – the substance that a calligrapher uses to connect two points in a space with a stroke. A charge of meaning is added immediately to the shape that it takes on. The complexity of relationships that unite and divide a subject through verbal communication or silence is endless and impossible to tackle, and such a complexity is represented by the infinite reproduction of threads that make up a fabric of unlimited connections – just likes the ones set up between the self and the world. The resulting webs are not improvised; they are the product of a rhizomatic writing system that is hand-crafted.

I imagine the threads as delineating either a personal or a universalized space. Black threads refer to a more universal, all-embracing space – like a night sky, or the universe – and in my works the color black suggests universal truths and ideas that tend more towards the abstract. Red, on the other hand, with its associations to blood, suggests lineage, the physiological way in which we trace our ancestry and origins, and by extension all the interconnections within society. Normally these relationships are invisible to the human eye, but once we try to visualise them with red thread, we can observe the multitude of relationships as a whole.

Stitching the sublime: Chiharu Shiota’s threads of time
Chiharu Shiota; State of Being (Dress); Metal Frame, black thread and dress; 2018; Galerie Templon at Art Basel HK

Mini-bio: Now based in Berlin, Chiharu Shiota was born in Osaka in 1972 and studied art at Kyoto Seika University, Canberra School of Art, Hochschule für Bildende Künste and Universität der Künste. She is best known for her large-scale installations that make use of intricate webs of thread.

Go Further

This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries and websites.

Online Galleries

Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:


Three Questions

  1. Which work do you like best: The Key in the Hand (red strings) or State of Being (black strings)? Why?
  2. In the Key in the Hand, the threads represent our interconnections with society, the keys represent the opportunities we get in life, but what do you think the wooden boats represent?
  3. In State of Being, what do the masks and children’s dresses represent?

Art Challenge

Let’s create a relationship graph. Draw a dot in the middle of a piece of paper. Draw other dots to represent the people closest to you. The closer they are to you the closer, you should put their dot to your dot. Connect their dots to your dot with lines. You can use different colors and different kinds of lines to represent different kinds of relationships (e.g., immediate family, distant family, friends, ex-friends, acquaintances colleagues etc.). If the other people in your chart know each other, connect their dots as well.

If you are more ambitious you can create a three-dimensional space and use thread instead!

~ text and photos by longzijun


Return to Artjouer’s Gallery of Artists

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