I generally try to cover topics which have a strong visual aspect on this blog. Art exhibitions, flowers, food and the like. Stuff I can take photos of. So the presentation of On Kawara’s epic work One Million Years at Asia House leaves me in a bit of a quandary; how do you visually represent an audio presentation?
The Asia House presentation coincides with a large exhibition of Kawara’s work at the Guggenheim Museum in New York which includes live readings of One Million Years, which is made up of One Million Years (Past), created in 1969 which covers the years 998,031 B.C. to 1969 A.D., and One Million Years (Future), created in 1981 which covers the years 1996 A.D. to 1,001,995 A.D, making two million years in all.
The readings all follow the same format: a man and woman sit side by side and alternate reading out the years. At the Guggenheim the readings are made by a team of volunteers reading in one hour slots. Each new session carries on from where the previous reading left off.
The presentation at Asia House isn’t a live reading but an audio recording which is broadcast continuously throughout the building. Yannick and I listened to it on the stairs and in the peaceful first floor rooms with their wonderful decorated ceilings.
The first reading of One Million Years was in 1993 at the Dia Center for the Arts, New York. Since then, there have been numerous live readings and recordings around the world including one in Trafalgar Square in 2004 which went on continuously for seven days and seven nights. The Guggenheim is the twenty-seventh venue to host it, and there will be many more to come before it is complete.
Each staging of the work is consecutive, so the Guggenheim received a particular set of dates to be read (circa the 200th millennium AD) that follows cumulatively from the dozens of readings that have been held previously.
One Million Years is about the marking of time and what that means for us. It makes the reader, and the listener, concentrate on the passage and meaning of time, both as it passes and as a concept. The reader, in the words of one volunteer, is ‘at once a consumer and a wellspring of time’.
The presentation has been running since 6 February and will finish on 3 May, so there’s still time to pop in for a listen. Asia House is on New Cavendish St and it’s open Monday to Friday 9 am to 6 pm.