On Kawara: One Million Years, Bozar Expo, Brussels

From today Bozar Expo, Brussels, exhibits conceptual artist, On Kawara’s One Million Years. Until 14 July the ongoing work will appear at the Centre for Fine Arts and the ongoing work, which was conceived back in 1969, documents the passage of time. The 20-volume work is biblical in scale and is a typewritten record of one million years, past and future. Each volume contains 2,068 pages and the past is dedicated to “all those who have lived and died” and Future is “for the last one”.

The construction of the work allows audiences to understand time itself in the physical act of reading the dates aloud. Contained a glass enclosure, male and female participants sit side-by-side and take turns reading dates, switching between the two volumes. Since 1993, live readings (and recordings) have been performed in cities around the world. It is the first time a public reading of One Million Years has been held in Belgium.

Apart from One Million Years, Kawara is best known for his Today Series, a collection of date paintings which he began in 1966. Wherever he is in the world, he makes one painting a day, and if he’s unable to complete it that day he destroys it. The paintings consist entirely of the date, hand-painted with calculated precision, always centered on the canvas and painted white, and set against a solid background (bold colors in the early years, darker in tone in the more recent ones). The date is always documented in the language and grammatical conventions of the country in which the painting is executed. The date paintings are clinically objective until the viewer happens upon one that depicts the date of a wedding or the birth of a child, at which point it suddenly turns personal and evocative.

On Kawara: One Million Years, Centre for Fine Art Brussels, 26 June – 14 July.

1. On Kawara, Reading One Million Years (Past and Future) at Trafalgar Square London – 2004 – Photo Marcus Leith.