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A Cloud of Keys (and Memories) Hangs Over Venice

Chiharu Shiota's stunning yarn installation is stealing the show at the 56th Venice Biennale.

Beckett Mufson

Beckett Mufson

All images of the Pavilion: Courtesy Chiharu Shiota © Chiharu Shiota. VG Bild Kunst

Everywhere we go, our keys come with us, soaking in our experiences and keeping the things we care about safe. Japanese installation artist Chiharu Shiota calls them a, "material that conveys our feelings," and to represent her country at the 56th Venice Biennale, has suspended over 50,000 keys from a room-sized mesh of bright red yarn for her latest installation, The Key in the Hand.

With each key, collected from donors all over the world and thus, covered in "countless layers of memory," Shiota's installation aims to immerse each visitor in a downpour of untold stories. To this effect, two boats part the torrent of vibrant lines hanging from the ceiling, symbolically catching the "memories" as they join Shiota's own within her installation. Meanwhile, a video projection broadcasting children trying to recall their earliest memories, How Did You Come into the World? plays nearby. "As I create the work in the space, the memories of everyone who provides me with their keys will overlap with my own memories for the first time," Shiota tells Art Review. "These overlapping memories will in turn combine with with those from people all over the world who come to see the Biennale, giving them a chance to understand each others' feelings."

These keys join a long line of household objects repurposed and recontextualized for Shiota's installations, including shoes, suitcases, doll's clothes, musical instruments, and the very yarn that binds them all together. Since its opening, The Key in Hand has stolen the show at the Biennale, earning a place as one of The Guardian's top five exhibits, and securing the opening slide of The New York Times' Venice coverage. Check out Chiharu Shiota's The Key in the Hand in images, below:

See more of Chiharu Shiota's work on her website.

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