A mesmerizing, surreal experience awaits anyone entering the Japan Pavilion at this year’s Venice Art Biennale. In a stunning installation called “The Key in the Hand,” artist Chiharu Shiota has filled a room with webs of red yarn. Suspended from the ceiling, the yarn is tied together so densely that it filters out the lights above. Hanging from the mass are over 50,000 keys collected from people all over the world. Like dark, frozen drops of rain, they appear to spill from the stringy red “clouds” into two weathered boats below, creating a dual sense of breathtaking movement and suspended time.
Despite their seemingly simple utility, keys are intimate objects that we all carry to keep ourselves—and the things we love—safe. Invested with our deep trust and passed between hands over time, keys symbolically bind us together. The Curator’s Statement for “The Key in the Hand” eloquently describes this further:
In our daily lives, keys protect valuable things like our houses, assets, and personal safety, and we use them while embracing them in the warmth of our hands. By coming into contact with people’s warmth on a daily basis, the keys accumulate countless, multilayered memories that dwell within us. Then at a certain point we entrust the keys, packed with memories, to others who we trust to look after the things that are important to us. (Source)
The keys represent a collection of human feelings, while the yarn visualizes their immaterial connections across time and space. Furthermore, while far removed from their international owners and original purposes, the keys also embody emotions and memories on a transcultural, transnational scale, as they are webbed together without perceptible distinctions of race, class, gender, or nation. As all the keys fall perpetually into the same ancient boats (which are described as “two hands catching a rain of memories”), Shiota’s installation beautifully visualizes a global form of connection spanning borders and generations. (Source). As the Curator’s Statement movingly concludes:
I look forward to watching as The Key in the Hand, an installation that forges a link between a space made up of keys, yarn, and two boats, and photographs and videos of children, transcends national, cultural, linguistic, and political contexts, and emotionally arouses countless visitors from all over the world. (Source)