On Thursday night, more than 100 people used about six miles of red yarn to “yarn bomb” the Smithsonian, employing the knitted or crocheted form of street art to cover the Washington, D.C., museum’s castle garden and gates.
The “bombing” was Smithsonian-sanctioned to promote “Perspectives,” a new exhibition by Japanese contemporary artist Chiharu Shiota.
For one installation, entitled “Over the Continents,” the artist and her assistants arranged nearly 400 pairs of discarded shoes, connecting them with yarn similar to the strands that now wrap the museum’s gate’s.
“Shoes and the indices of their owners’ lives had been on my mind since the last couple of years,” Shiota tells Quartz. “I felt that returning to Japan after six years of living in Europe was like trying on a pair of shoes worn down a long time ago: you suddenly find that they no longer fit.”
Shiota has worked with old footwear before, collecting shoes from people and second-hand stores for exhibits in Poland, Berlin, and Osaka. This installation is different, however, because this time Shiota collected notes about the shoes’ significance from their Japanese owners. The Smithsonian translated many of the notes into English (with the help of the Washington Japanese Women’s Network) for visitors to read in an interactive kiosk and online exhibit.
Handwritten on personal bits of paper, the notes are intimate and moving snapshots of everyday life. Many are melancholy; even happy memories seem colored with some shade of loss, or letting go. Others, such as one about a shoe left without a match when its mate got stolen by a badger, are lighthearted and poetic.
For more on the shoes and the notes about them, scroll down, see the online exhibition, or visit the installation itself, which opens on Aug. 30 at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.