Chiharu Shiota’s ‘I Hope…’ at König Galerie

vor 3 years

When there’s nothing else left, there is always still hope.

I saw the recent Chiharu Shiota exhibit ‘I Hope…’ last month at König Galerie in Berlin. 

It sat with me, heavily. I sat on it, too. 

I have been a close follower and fan of Chiharu’s for many years. I first saw her in New York in 2012, with blocks of window panes and frames piled around and atop each other. It felt suffocating. There was despair. The windows that served as hope for making it out to the other side only seemed to be a forewarning of even more views of blockade and nothingness, rather than any opportunity for light or escape. 

I saw her again in Berlin, at the Nikolaikirche. Ample black threads, and again, claustrophobic, but this time, a bit more airy with pages of books scattered amongst the threads. The show was entitled Lost Words. She and I seemed to be on the same page again. She spoke so much to me. I was tangled up in it, but there was room for expansion and finally some space to breathe and see above and beyond the turmoil in front of us, and as symbolically shown, we were catching quite a bit of knowledge in the breadth of all those tangles.

It’s been a year of lockdown in Berlin. I miss fleeing to my old haunts for after work drinks. I miss the excitement of trying out new restaurants with friends, sitting for hours, catching up on all the things we were doing, all the people we were meeting, all the ways we were being inspired and trying to inspire others. My hair has missed being pampered, my nails miss being tended to. I miss shopping the fare of local goods with friends who had a bit of the means to do it, given we all actually had jobs. But most of all, I have so desperately missed the feeling of art experienced in person. My eyes have grown so tired of screens, and the last thing I wish to do in my spare time, is be further tethered to one.

When I was given the opportunity to take a private walk through of the new Chiharu exhibit, I could have cried at this blessing being extended to me. If it had been a car set on fire in the middle of St. Agnes, I would have happily agreed to see it, if only to be in the gallery again. 

But to see in the flesh something that I knew would move me so… to once again experience the wonder and transportation that is Chiharu and her strings, especially with one entitled ‘I Hope…’, I didn’t know how I would be able to handle it. 

But this brings me to my next point… I didn’t review this experience of hers last month, while I had so much to say and so many emotions to spew that my notes were hardly legible, because honestly, I felt a bit poorly at having been there, at having experienced something so monumental. The governor of Texas fled his fellow Texans for Cancun, while thousands of his residents went without power in the midst of a pandemic. He was demonized. And rightfully so! 

When I was in the exhibit, I noted a feeling of strange betrayal toward collective camaraderie… I wanted to share with the whole world, specifically with Berliners, the moving experience I had been granted. But I knew all my friends and readers would ultimately be at a loss, to read of the beauty that is in their own backyard, locked away from them, just out of reach. Sure, it was available in the digital realm… I think that is what I was to write on… but I would personally never allow myself to ‘experience’ one of her pieces this way, nor would I encourage anyone else to do it either. So I internalized what I experienced as best I could and I waited… and I hoped for this day to come, never soon enough…

And now here we are. A month later. Today, we received news that galleries and museums are opening up again. I don’t know how long this will last. I start and end so many of my sentences these days with the words ‘I hope…’ 

I hope the lockdown keeps diminishing.
I hope we don’t lock down again.
I hope my friends know I still care about them.
I hope we will all come out of this okay.

And then, and now, there is still Chiharu. 

The entirety of her exhibit is made up of long red strings. Thousands of them. None of them are tangled. They are hanging straight from above. They wave back at you when you walk past them. You look up rather than around you. Nothing is claustrophobic about this exhibit. I can breathe easier because my body is expanding rather than retracting. Attached to these strings are pieces of red paper… written upon them are wishes and hopes of past visitors to her exhibits. It’s an entire cathedral’s worth of collective hope. In Japanese culture, red is a color of celebration and life.

There are boats placed within this exhibit, and they are lifting off…. Up and above… The sheets of paper are flying from them. The hope inscribed is what is keeping them afloat. All those delicate strings are supporting them as if by miracle, or by grace of a god, or maybe it really is just our own collective will, after all.

In this exhibit, I didn’t hope for anything. I was at a loss for nothing. The statement ‘I hope…’ was a mantra. ‘I hope’ was a declaration. A statement. Period.

Go see it. You can. Call or email them to book a timeslot. More info here
Text by Janna Shaw 

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