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Pandemic Time


Without appointments and concerts, without events and other things that remind me of the date, I find myself looking at the calendar more often, trying to fix in my mind a place to lodge myself in the stream of time. Is it Sunday or maybe Monday? But to be honest, the calendar that seems more like the true pandemic calendar is the one that hangs on my wall made by the German artist Hanne Darboven in 1971 as a gift for one of her collectors, which I acquired years ago. It’s a calendar for the year 1972 and Darboven carefully filled all of the spaces surrounding the actual calendar with wavy black lines. It doesn’t seem like much at first, but it’s connected to a large body of work she did with calendars over several years.

When I saw some of the calendar works by Darboven (1941-2009) for the first time I was struck by the fact that they depicted the way I felt about time, about eternity slowly unfolding before me.  The cinematic version of time passing, which often shows a succession of calendar pages disappearing off the screen, blown away by the breeze, was never how I understood time. For me, it’s the constant repetition, the endless mimetic motion of the hand up and down, left to right, the same gesture day after day after day. That feels like time.

Hanne Darboven. Cover of her limited edition, self-published artist’s book 1975.

These obsessive, wavy lines became one of Darboven’s signature marks, one that she used for years in scores of works. Each line is a simple unbroken set of waves that appears to have been made with a medium-tipped black marker. The line rises and falls, undulating like a word comprised only of the lower-case, un-dotted letter “i” or an endless line of the letter “u” written in cursive, leaning slightly to the right. This line is repeated time after time, filling the allotted space. It’s a recognition of the underlying sameness of every cycle of day and night, followed by another day and night. But it also feels like a form of penance (I will not chew gum in class anymore. I will not chew gum in class anymore. I will not . . . ) When I was young, the very idea of eternity (and eternal life) frightened me unbelievably.

Darboven lines
Hanne Darboven. Untitled. c. 1972. Collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Darboven’s wavy lines remind me of something from the early pages of Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, when the title character watches from his mother’s house as two men—who he calls A and C—walk toward each other in the distance.

The road, hard and white, seared the tender pastures, rose and fell at the whim of the hills and hollows. The town was not far. It was two men, unmistakably, one small and one tall . . . At first a wide space lay between them. They couldn’t have seen each other, even had they raised their heads and looked about, because of this wide space, and then because of the undulating land, which caused the road to be in waves, not high, but high enough.

The other artist whose sense of time matches this pandemic was the Japanese artist On Kawara (1932-2014), especially his Today Series of paintings (also called his Date Paintings). Each of these black-and-white paintings conveyed only the current date and he had a self-imposed requirement that each of these paintings would be completed on the day in which he started them. In addition, the language and format of the date had to conform to the country where he was staying at the time. Upon completion, the painting would be housed in a box accompanied by a daily newspaper from date and the city where the painting was made. These are paintings for days on which there appear to be no past and no future.

On Karawa 4 Mars 1973
On Kawara. 4 Mars 1973. Acrylic on canvas.

On Kawara also published a two-volume limited edition book called One Million Years. The first volume, Past, is dedicated to “all those who have lived and died,” and covers the years from 998,031 BC to 1969 AD. The second volume, Future, is dedicated to “the last one,” and begins with the year 1993 AD and ends with the year 1,001,992 AD.

On Kawara One Million Years a
On Kawara. One Million Years. 1999.
33 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for this thoughtful post. I had never heard of Hanne Darboven and immediately like her work. The unintelligible scribble reminds me of Simon Hantaï and his Peinture Rose which is a giant canvas entirely covered with palimpsestic “writing” that looks very lifelike and, upon close inspection, occasionally yields a word fragment or a symbolic cipher. Works like Peinture Rose or On Kawara’s series of “Todays” seem, to me, to bring a dimension of geological time into the everyday through numerical sedimentation. Similarly, Roman Opalka and his 1 to infinity.

    May 27, 2020
  2. Thank you for introducing me to two very intriguing artists! I was not aware of either Hantaï or Opalka.

    May 27, 2020
  3. I don’t think I have ever read an article or post with so much thought, new points of view about calendars and art. I will never look at a calendar the same way ever again. Thank you for some fascinating education!

    June 8, 2020
  4. Very well written. I wasn’t aware of either of these men or their works. Good to know who they really are. Thanks for sharing!

    June 8, 2020
  5. Ferry Hariyanto #

    good information, thanks for sharing this article =)

    June 8, 2020
  6. So thoughtful!

    June 8, 2020
  7. Thanks for introducing me to these 2 artists (who I’d never heard of).

    June 9, 2020
  8. This is very thought provoking and I feel what you are saying with regards to time.

    June 9, 2020
  9. 🙏🙏🙏🙏

    June 9, 2020
  10. Very informative. Thanks for sharing!

    June 10, 2020
  11. Great post, I can relate to the dates and wondering what day it is sometimes lately 🤔

    June 11, 2020
  12. Very thoughtful and informative 🙂

    June 11, 2020
  13. How fascinating. I’m also interested in the concept of time, so will be reading more of your writings and thanks for bringing to my attention to the art works. All the best :)

    June 12, 2020
  14. Somedatta Sengupta #

    That’s quite informative, Vertigo. My teacher actually asked a question related to this one, and I was the first one to answer!!!! So yes, the credit goes to you…..

    June 12, 2020
  15. This post is absolutely amazing! Thank You!

    June 13, 2020
  16. Nice one ! Hey Guys, do check my blog for amazing articles which will definitely motivate you.

    June 14, 2020
  17. Wow, I’ve never heard of these before but I’m intrand I’m going to read more about it. Very nice post

    June 16, 2020
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  19. This is very insightful. Something I’d have never thought of is I had not come across this post. Great work!! 👍🏻👍🏻

    June 19, 2020
  20. Love it!

    June 25, 2020
  21. As I read this post I could feel a vertigo in this. I didn’t know where the post was going or how it was going to end. I was back in the period of lockdown (I am in NZ) and the uncertainty around every question haunted me.

    Excellent post.

    June 25, 2020
  22. Thanks for sharing stories of such wonderful and thoughtful artists.never know calendars can be storyteller

    July 6, 2020
  23. Thank you this post ! Please check out my post too :)

    July 10, 2020
  24. good post.

    September 6, 2020

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