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Chiharu Shiota transforms the Mattress Factory's newest space, partly with yarn

It's a glorious and lush new beginning for a structure past its century


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The Mattress Factory has expanded to include a small, 19th-century North Side row house a few doors down from its main facility. Trace of Memory, by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota, is the space's premiere exhibition. This spellbinding inauguration embraces the former home's history, while building upon it with artistic innovation.

Shiota's signature technique — surrounding objects and filling environments with corded lattice work — is employed to stunning effect throughout three stories of a Pittsburgh dwelling typical of its era. The house itself evinces generations of habitation: hardwood floors trod to dullness and furrow; paint flaked off walls in patterns that evoke moss and lichen spreading over rock; staircases and window frames, once straight as young spines, now crooked like elderly ones. The wear and decay only enhance the building's beauty, like the evidence of passing years can improve a lovely girl into a compelling woman.

Shiota has begun by creating evocative tableaux throughout. Minimal and simple, they suggest glimpses into the activities of the unseen occupants. In the entryway, a spindly-legged chair has been pulled away from an austere desk, hinting at a brief respite from studies; this staging is echoed elsewhere, with a cast-iron sewing machine. In one room, books are piled high on the floor, some fluttering and flying into the air; in another, stacks of hard-backed suitcases wait, some hinged open and empty like mouths waiting to be filled.

The scenes fabricated — the implications for the lives here suggested — are themselves hypnotically compelling. The further embellishment of Shiota's hallmark yarn-work delivers these scenes into transcendence. Thick, rough yarn, frayed and black, is anchored to floor, stretched to ceiling, pulled to window sills, creating patterns, cradles and cocoons. The most obvious parallel is to webs, imagined arachnids busily weaving delicate snares from corner to corner — though Shitota's tendrils suggest not an entrapping web, but an embrace instead. Further exploration calls to mind the growth of a creeper, kudzu or ivy, crawling from room to room, the yarn spreading over surfaces of its own imperative.

It's a glorious and lush new beginning for a structure past its century, elusive and transitory. One anticipates how this building will be utilized next, while wishing it could remain as it is now.


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