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13. A puzzle of personal and collective history
Created by "drawing in the air."
suggested reading method
To best savour this artwork, please take a moment to eliminate distractions. Consider minimizing all other windows on your computer; putting other devices (phone, tv etc) aside; taking a deep breath, to the full extent of your lung capacity; and focusing solely on the “artwork” section.
Once you’ve processed that to your satisfaction, the rest of the post is optional reading, provided only to share my own impressions and reasons for choosing this piece.
Counting Memories by Chiharu Shiota. Sept 7, 2019 – Oct 4, 2020. Installation at the Muzeum Śląskie (Silesian Museum) in Katowice, Poland using wooden desks, chairs, paper, and black wool. Photo by Sonia Szeląg.
Seeing this piece for the first time, I was attracted to its dark yet rich imaginative quality. In this sense the scene feels drawn from an animation; yet, in the real installation, the elements are still.
The lines emanating from the desks create an organic, greyish mass reaching towards the ceiling. Inside, the seemingly random placement of the numbers suggests entropy, as if there is a storm brewing and everything is moving towards chaos. Perhaps this is someone’s nightmare of a math test…! 🤪 While that all sounds quite gloomy, the contrast of light against dark can be hopeful, too – perhaps decoding the numbers would somehow defeat any malevolent force.
After learning Shiota was inspired by the space and the idea that numbers connect people’s histories, I can also see this piece as a representation of everyone’s memories and identities. How timely as governments around the world increasingly attempt to catalogue their citizens using passports, ID cards and social credit systems. Ultimately, though, the complexities and contradictions within any individual life cannot be contained by those structures, simple numbers and letters on a page.
Speaking for myself anyway, my memories can feel as jumbled up as the yarn in this picture. Even so, I take some comfort in the fact I can think freely, and keep trying to make sense of the crazy world we share.
Chiharu Shiota (1972 - ) is a Japanese artist born in Osaka and based in Berlin. Although she initially studied painting, she is best known for her installations and has exhibited all over the world, from Australia to the UK.
According to this interview, Counting Memories required 3000 skeins of black yarn with a total length of 375 km. The interactive exhibition encourages visitors to approach the desks and respond to questions such as “Which number has meaning to you and why?”; “Do numbers tell us who we are?”'; “How many memories do you have?”; “What is the most important number?”; and “What number defines you?”
Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments!
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