Aussie memories inspire Chiharu Shiota

Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota credits her time in Australia with her move towards performance and installation art.

Contemporary artist Chiharu Shiota sees her massive installations in thread as simply drawing in three dimensions.

But it wasn't always this way for the renowned Japanese talent, whose largest solo exhibition to date opened at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane on Saturday.

Shiota originally wanted to be a painter and credits her time in Australia in the 1990s with turning her towards performance and installation instead.

At art school in Canberra, the 22-year-old found herself unable to pick up a brush.

"When I painted something I felt like someone else, I felt limited by canvas and oil painting," she tells AAP ahead of her exhibition opening.

She describes having a dream in which she becomes a painting, unable to breathe under the paint covering her.

Several days later, in what she describes as an act of liberation, Shiota wrapped a canvas around her body and doused herself in toxic red enamel - her formative 1994 work Becoming Painting.

Around the same time, she collected seed pods from a Canberra schoolyard and laid them end to end, resulting in a work titled One Line.

"I found a certain joy in drawing a line without any technique," she says of the work.

These were her very first steps towards the large-scale installation and performance work that would make her name internationally.

Shiota studied under performance artist Marina Abramovic and started her experiments in thread in Berlin, where she has been based since 1999.

But because her art tackles fundamental questions about being human, it speaks to people everywhere, according to curator Mami Kataoka.

"Chiharu is one of the few, the handful, of artists who can do that," the Director of the Mori Art Museum says.

The Brisbane show also features a major new commission for GOMA.

Shiota drew on her memories of Uluru and the Central Desert sky from her first trip to Australia to create A question of perspective 2022.

A rain of black thread descends to a desk and empty chair, surrounded by a tornado of blank papers suspended mid-flight.

"It looks like someone's there, this person is thinking and empty papers are flying ... one person has a lot of perspective," Shiota says.

One of her best known works, Uncertain Journey 2016/2019, consists of metal boat frames tied with thousands of strands of red wool that ascend to form a vast glowing membrane, symbolising the uncertainty of life.

It was far from certain Shiota would even be able to stage this retrospective - in 2016, the day after she was offered the show, she discovered her ovarian cancer had returned.

Even as she underwent surgery and chemotherapy, she returned to the profound questions that characterise her work to make fresh art.

"How can I survive if my body dies? And where is my soul going, my thinking and feeling? Where is it going?"

"I wanted to make this show. I hoped I could make this show. I didn't know how to survive," she says.

Shiota's thread art must be reconstructed each time it is set up in a new gallery, which for the Brisbane show had a team of six studio assistants weaving all day for two weeks, according to Ms Kataoka.

"They love her, everyone adores her ... everyone becomes part of the installation. They really respect what she is doing," Ms Kataoka says.

The exhibition continues until October 3.

AAP travelled to Brisbane with the assistance of GOMA.