Counting Universe by the Chiharu Shiota

Added 2019-10-05 in by Aleksandra Pietrzak

Insights on the new exhibition at the Silesian Museum.

Imposing museum complex located on the premises of the former "Katowice" Coal Mine creates a new center of cultural life in the city. Both the permanent collection as the temporary exhibitions presented there are an interesting point on the map of Silesia. The current installation by Chiharu Shiota in the "Gallery of One Work" set a high bar. "Counting Memories" is an exhibition prepared specifically for this Museum.

Exhibition view (source:

Entering the hall, a black sky full of stars stretches over our heads. It is difficult to take your eyes off the tangled net in which over one thousand white numbers are involved, hidden. Old-fashioned desks and chairs are arranged under the heavenly landscape. There are two piles of white paper on each table top, with one question drawn on it. What number matters to you and why? What number is the most important? Which number defines you? Do the numbers tell us who we are? Do the numbers tell the truth? How many memories do you have How many stars are there in the universe? When do the numbers stop making sense? Why are numbers and memories related to each other? What is the common denominator for us as people? Next to it lies a pencil suggesting to write your own answer.

Anyone who felt the need to answer a question could write their thoughts on the paper (source:

Shiota is an artist born in Osaka in 1972, but lives and works in Berlin. She is known for creating installations from tangled yarn networks that create site-specific exhibitions (ones that are created for a specific space already established during design). In 2015, she represented Japan at the 56th Venice Biennale. In her works, she tries to confront the most basic issues such as life, death and interpersonal relations. Shiota's installations are presented all over the world, and each of them is different. And so it is in this case. 375 km of thread (a total of 3,000 bundles of wool) were used to create the installation! Once again, Chiharu enchanted her viewers by questioning universal concepts such as identity and existence.

With this installation, I want to visualize the universe within this space. A massive cloud of intertwined lines fills the room; it floats above a collection of nine tables and chairs. The network holds hundreds of white numbers like stars in the night sky. The room is transformed into an organic space, our inner universe connected with the outside. The interconnected string displays our connected history. Each number defines us individually but also connects us universally. Numbers comfort us, we share dates that are important to us, and they help us understand ourselves. Our history is collected through numbers.

In this way, the intertwined string reflects our history, while the numbers, which are scattered sporadically like the stars above Katowitz, represent the most meaningful dates we know. Placed at the centre of this universe is an existence that cannot be seen with our naked eye; our past, present and future selves sit at the table reflecting on the countless stars in the universe, which is ever expanding.

Especially in Katowice with its complicated history, I find it important to display an installation that connects people and shows how we are all part of the same organism. The visitors are invited to sit at the tables and write their thoughts on sheets of paper that will be piled onto the tables. They can either describe their emotions or answer specified questions, such as Which number has meaning to you and why? What is the most important number? What number defines you? Do numbers tell us who we are? Do numbers tell the truth? How many memories do you have? How many stars exist in the universe? When do numbers stop making sense? Why do memories and numbers have a connection? What is our common denominator as people? The purpose of art is to affect the viewer emotionally. I want the viewer to reflect on their inner self, on their life, past, present and future and see beyond the object that is displayed in front of them.

As we can see, Chiharu Shiota set herself a difficult task. She is sensitive to the Silesian region and its heritage. It doesn't impose the topic, it was supposed to be universal. The method to solve it is to be to some extent art, but only one that engages the recipient. Here you should even touch the exhibition, and Chiharu invites us to contribute to his installation. Many hands have to earn it for the final effect to create the proverbial space (here you can only mention photos from the assembly work). As Galileusz said: Mathematics is the alphabet that God used to describe the universe.

The Japanese artist's exhibition mesmerizes the audience. On the one hand, we are drifting in the network of poetry and metaphors, and on the other, we are being drawn to the mathematical empiricism of numbers. Although the space used to create the installation is not huge, its effect goes beyond the gallery walls creating a colossal black cloud. It interacts with objects and human bodies wandering between a braided rope. The work is a reflection of what makes us human and how memories build our identity (in this case in the context of the Upper Silesia region).

The problem of memory in contemporary art has been and is still vividly raised by artists trying to use scientific research in this field. In the case of the Shiota exhibition, one can also speak of post-memory, i.e. the memory of the second generation (descendants of the generation who survived the collective trauma) and individual memory. What is their relationship, how to analyze these aspects in the context of critical art? As you can see the memory has different dimensions and takes various forms.

Shiota's approach to creating art is extremely personal. The result of the work is a continuous exchange of content between corporeality, emotionality, physical and immaterial. She was looking for her way as an artist for a long time, dreamed for a long time to become a painter.

I couldn’t paint anymore, because for me painting was just color on the canvas. It had no other meaning whatsoever. I found myself stuck, without being able to go back or forward. But I couldn’t quit art.[1]

The breakthrough came when she moved to Berlin to study under the direction of performance mother Marina Abramović. As a result of a teacher's inspiration, artists like Rebbeca Horn, Ana Mendieta, Louise Bourgeois or Eva Hesse and installations of the 1970s she began to create spatial mazes in which not only (her) objects are entangled, but the recipients themselves and the artist. Its goal is to build space using spatial installations. Already in 2021 her individual exhibition will be organized in Tokyo at the Mori Art Museum under the title "The Soul Trembles" and will be the largest exhibition of the artist she has created so far.

The exhibition at the Silesian Museum can be viewed until April 26, 2020.