‘Counting Memories’ and looking within with Chiharu Shiota’s installation in Poland

Shiota, a Japanese installation artist, shares her thoughts on her recent site-specific installation at the Silesian Museum at Katowice, Poland.

by Jones John Published on : Mar 19, 2020

The visitors to the gallery at the Silesian Museum in Katowice, Poland, can look up to see countless strings of numbers hung up like stars in a filamentous universe. Connected to this intricate network of black strings and white digits by vortex-like beams are several wooden tables and chairs, each seating one, inviting the audience to sit down and reflect on their personal histories and relationships with numbers. “Our history is collected through numbers, many people define themselves with numbers, and it is a shared concept of time,” says Chiharu Shiota, whose engagement with the city and its history had culminated in the aptly titled Counting Memories.

Shiota uses a dense network of black string and white numerals to invoke a sense of oneness with the cosmos | Counting Memories | Chiharu Shiota | STIRworld
Shiota uses a dense network of black string and white numerals to invoke a sense of oneness with the cosmos Image Credit: Sonia Szelag

Katowice, as is the rest of Upper Silesia, is rich in mineral resources and this abundance has for a long time driven the city’s narrative. The site of the installation is the Museum’s new campus, which was once a coal mine and, albeit not directly, this played an important part in Shiota’s conceptualisation. “I thought about the depth of the earth and the blackness of the coal. It reminded me of the accumulation of black thread, which is like a universal all-embracing space, like a night sky or the Universe.”

The idea of being transcendental through the everyday penetrates deep within Shiota’s art. While she is most recognised for her practice of transforming exhibition spaces into intricate yarn environments, integrating found objects and sometimes herself, a crucial part of the practice is the setting up itself, when the act of creating knots becomes a form of meditation.

An audience member interacts with the installation | Counting Memories | Chiharu Shiota | STIRworld
An audience member interacts with the installation Image Credit: Roksana Miarka, Courtesy of Chiharu Shiota

Of course, this process is not one she can transmute to the audience and for compounding their experience she meanders through myriad possibilities for interaction. At Counting Memories, the medium to this end is simple yet effective: a questionnaire waiting on each table that explores people’s perceptions of numerals. With prompts such as “do numbers tell the truth?” and “how many memories do you have?”, amongst others, participants are left with a new way of looking at certain parts of life that are so primeval they are almost always taken for granted.

What number defines you? | Counting Memories | Chiharu Shiota | STIRworld
What number defines you? Image Credit: Roksana Miarka, Courtesy of Chiharu Shiota

For Shiota it is not as important to create work that tells personal stories of people or places as it is to create an environment that provokes thought and acts as an emotional catalyst. Each element of the installation is meant to trigger subjective responses, provoking remembrance and/or contemplation. The everyday nature of the furniture, as with the numbers in that they are almost a part of everybody’s individual human experiences, grants them a clairvoyant quality which allows the installation to channel into each member of the audience some personal truth. In conjecture with cosmic numerals strung overhead, one feels the echoes of the old hermetic aphorism which goes “as above, so below”. “I believe, we all have an inner universe, and I want to connect this universe with the outer universe.”

The questionnaire makes one reflect on one’s relationship with numbers | Counting Memories | Chiharu Shiota | STIRworld
The questionnaire makes one reflect on one’s relationship with numbers Image Credit: Sonia Szelag, Courtesy of Chiharu Shiota

Counting Memories is on view at the Silesian Museum in Katowice, Poland, till October 4, 2020.

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About Author

Jones John

Jones John

John is an independent curator and art-historian working out of Bengaluru, India. He has studied at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru, and Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore. His research interests revolve around transcendentalism in the visual arts, cross-cultural identities and their relationship to contemporary culture.

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