shoes smithsonian“Object art” carries special meaning in a new installation by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota, which consists of nearly 400 unpaired shoes linked by four miles of richly hued red yarn, each connected with a personal story that imparts the importance of a memory.

Recently unveiled at the Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and appearing through next year, the exhibit dramatically brings home the point that “presence dwells within absence,” in the words of the artist.

My first reaction to the image shown top was a somber one, as it initially evoked feelings of abandonment, and possibly, misfortune. But the use of the color red was a tip-off. The notes attached to the artifacts are each wonderfully life-affirming, uniting the material and the spiritual in an unexpectedly vivid way.

shoe with note“I can feel the person through their used objects,” Shiota remarked in a recent interview.

Objects that range from the rhinestone-adorned high heel (left), offered as a reminder of a mother “at her most shining moments,” to the shoe used by a boxer to symbolize his commitment to the sport during grueling training, to perhaps most poignantly, a son’s donation of one of the shoes worn by his father on his way to a hospital from which he never returned.

All capture the spirits that fill the inanimate…their presence dwelling within the absence.