GAME ON (33)


WHOLE AND PARTS




ONE: 2022

I'm going to talk in depth about books in this essay. Books about On Kawara. But one book in particular. And if you're wondering if you've got the particular book in your own collection then let me tell you here and now that you don't. Or if you do, you are even more committed to the legacy of On Kawara than I am.

The tome in question came out in 1996 from Les Presses du Réel in Dijon, France, the organisation responsible for the superb Giacometti/Kawara show in 1990. Apparently, On Kawara 'proposed' the volume, and suggested what it might consist of, while Xavier Douroux and Franck Gautherot edited. I would like to know more about the division of labour. When I learned that it runs to over 700 pages, I realised I needed to see it. Though the fact that the book (only 2000 copies were printed) is rare and expensive on the second-hand market has so far prevented me from acquiring a copy. I guess my outlay on On Kawara books has been about £1,000 to date. To get this book as well would involve laying out another £300. Chicken feed, really. But I can't quite bring myself to do so many hundreds of chickens out of so many hundreds of meals.

However, last week (it was early February, 2022, that I wrote this 'part one') I discovered that St. Andrew's University Library has a copy, and that by becoming a temporary member of the library I could borrow it for four weeks at a time. So there I was, in this space devoid of students because of Covid. I found the book, which must weigh a good five kilograms, and I placed it on a piece of library furniture so as to take this photo.

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The covers of the book - and several double-pages at the front and the rear of the volume - are covered in numbers. Such numbers as 'seventy-eight trillion five hundred ninety-two billion fifty million one hundred forty-one thousand seven hundred and two'. (That's 78,592,050,141,702.) Some numbers are much smaller and simpler, like 'five'. And other numbers are seemingly large but in fact turn out to be very small, like 'five thousand and fourteen ten thousandths'. (That's 0.5014.)

The number sequence brings to mind the artist's Million Years Past and Million Years Future works. But it's bit different here, more to do with scale. A large number, (say a million years), in the past, and a large number (say a million years) in the future, would be the equivalent of positive and negative numbers, with zero as the number in common. That's not what we have here. In this case, the numbers go from 'one' to however many trillion one can think of, and write down, but then one can make the level of detail (between 0 and 1) incredibly high by specifying how many trillionths are involved. So I wouldn't be surprised if the word equivalent of 208,345,678,235,087,167.185679037 is listed in the end papers of this book which has already made a substantial impact on me.

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The photo above is of the book upside down, showing the back cover. The little square, top left, is in fact a sentence which reads: 'It's always while looking at the part that the whole is seen to be moving.' The sentence is attributed to Ben Kinmont, and in the Phaidon volume about On Kawara, published in 2002, Ben Kinmont tells us that he received a call from On Kawara who had noticed this sentence in the gutter of an otherwise blank leaf in a catalogue that Kinmont had been working on. Kawara explained that he was preparing 'his first retrospective' and that the title would be 'Whole and Parts'. He wondered if he could quote the sentence on the cover of his catalogue and on posters advertising the exhibition.

So it seems On Kawara really did take a detailed interest in the making of this book. I carried it in a haversack out of the library and placed it beside me on a bench where I was eating a sandwich and enjoying one of the best views in St Andrew's. It reminded me a bit of an Oxbridge college scenario that I experienced as a student in the 1970s. It also reminded me a bit of the second venue of 'On Kawara: Again and Against'; at the Renaissance Society, Chicago, which was set in the old-seeming University part of the city in 1989. I pity the general reader who has had to read that last sentence. Really there is so much factual information that I should consider stripping out of these essays, turning them from essays to stories.

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Back to the cover of Whole and Parts:

'Seventy-eight trillion five hundred ninety-two billion fifty million one hundred forty-one thousand seven hundred and two.'

That's 78,592,050,141,702.

Which is a funny old number when you think about it. Why no tenths or hundredths or thousandths or millionths or billionths or trillionths? Seems bit convenient to have just ended in 'two'. I crunched a few more numbers as I munched my sandwich. Food, shelter, and glimpses of both nothing - absolutely zilch - and the infinite. Who could ask for more?

Home, I lay out most of the On Kawara books in my possession. From the oldest (top left) to the most recently published (bottom right). The most important book in the writing of this website to date has been the second book, though all have made significant contributions. Whole and Parts is the sixth book. The second, seventh and fourteenth books are retrospectives published in 1980, 1996 and 2015, respectively. There I go again with my On Kawara fact overload!

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The book is split into three sections. 'WORKS 1964-1995'; 'TEXTS 1970 - 1995'; and 'EXHIBITIONS 1970 - 1995'. The 'WORKS 1964-1995' section covers more than 300 pages and begins with two sequences of photos recording the painting of a Date. That's 6 AUG.1992, painted in Tokyo, recorded over 36 pages. And 20 FEV. 1993 painted in Paris, also recorded over 36 pages. Why these two in particular? Well, I think these are On Kawara's two studios apart from New York, which had already been documented in the exquisite little book by Henning Weidemann JUNE 9,1991.

After that, as you can see from the reproduction of the page, below, there is some pre-1966 work. 8 pages of Codes from 1965; 21 pages of Drawings that were included in the cardboard box he made to enclose the sketches he made in Paris and New York in 1964; and the significant paintings Location and Title from 1965.

vypkfhxqswmpveytygq0ja_thumb_1060c Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of les presses du réel.

Only then are we truly in the zone. Next comes the 'Today' series. First a reproduction of JANUARY 25, 1966, which is the tenth Date Painting he made during that first month. There then follows ten pages of photographs On Kawara took in his studio at the end of 1966 (remember these from the 1966 essay I built around them?), which document (in an utterly compelling way) what he achieved in that first year of Date Painting, before they were given boxes and stored away. Then the Date Paintings are represented from 1967 to 1995, one per year, making 29 in all, in conjunction with a corresponding page from 'I READ'.

The 'I READ' files are not quite the same things as displaying Date Paintings with the newspaper cutting fitted into each Date Painting's cardboard box. After all , the latter had been done throughout the Date Painting in 89 Cities book which had been published three years before. Instead, you get the following typical example:

hbtakfeztf23rzrgoboffq_thumb_e17a Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.


The '170 B (5)' info is taken from the Journal. In other words this page of 'I READ' corresponded to the Date Painting for NOV.6 1967, being the 170th of the year, the fifth completed in the month of November, and it was size B. For all you size queens out there.

From 1967 to the end of 1972, the majority of subtitles were taken from 'I READ' (rather than the extract from the newspaper placed in the Date Painting's box). On this occasion, NOV.6, 1967, On Kawara took the beginning of the story in column one and appended the beginning of the story in column 4, giving him: 'Communist China hailed today the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution but asserted that the 'tenter of world revolution' had shifted from Moscow to Peking and in the United States, LeRoi Jones, Negro playwright, was found guilty of illegally possessing weapons during the Newark riots in July.' Not particularly subtle segway that single 'and' but Kawara was not aiming tp produce literary art.

The next section of 'WORKS' to be represented in Whole and Parts was 'I WENT'. For this, On selected 22 maps. 2 for 1968, 3 for 1969, 1 for 1970, 1 for 1971, 1 for 1972, 6 for 1973, 3 for 1974 and 1 each for 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979. Why a few more for 1973? That was his most ambitious year of travel, including an African journey and a road-trip across America. They were not the same maps that had been reproduced in On Kawara: One Year's Production, the earlier retrospective. Maybe he was assuming that interested parties would seek out all his books and collect them! Not much chance of that, Mr. Kawara. Present author excepted.

The next section seems out of place. It is headed '18 PARIS IV.70'. A page of text explaining the set-up for an exhibition is followed by the three telegrams that On Kawara made for it, beginning with 'I AM NOT GOING TO COMMIT SUICIDE DON'T WORRY'. That leads straight into 'I GOT UP 1971', being 15 pages of postcards to Roger Mazarguil, the Frenchman who ran a restaurant in Paris called 'Georges'. That is followed by an 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegram for each year from 1970 to 1995, 26 in all. But why not lead straight from the telegrams to the Paris gallery in 1970 into the associated work, the 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams? Why put the 'I GOT UP AT' batch of postcards in between? True, the initial telegrams were sent on December 5, 8 and 11, 1970. And it was only on January 20 of 1971 that the first 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegram was sent to Herbert and Dorothy Vogel. That's a gap of about a month. So perhaps On Kawara wanted to commemorate that gap with a batch of postcards. And why not make it postcards to Roger, his restaurant being one of the reasons that On had chosen to buy a flat in Paris!

This is followed by 'I MET'. The choice being a page per day for the whole of July, 1968. This doesn't give much away. On was in Mexico at the time. No Hiroko, No Kasper, no New York friends. No art world people. A safe choice? Either that or I just haven't spotted what makes it special. True, the Hashimoto family is well-represented, and their significance remains unexplained to this day, particularly Takashi Hashimoto's. I simply cannot wait for the day that someone explains who Takashi Hashimoto was, and how he managed to get so close to On and Hiroko for three years or so.

This is followed by a 100-Year-Calendar which goes over a double-page spread. It's called 18,864 Days and was completed up to August 16, 1984. On Kawara usually stated the number of days that he'd lived up until the opening of show. And he had two shows in 1974, one in Antwerp and one in Tokyo, so presumably this calendar appeared in one of them.

Next comes One Million Years Past. The cover of the first volume is reproduced, as are three opening title pages, then pages 1; 100 and 101; 300 and 301; 500 and 501; and so on until 1900 and 1901, which is followed by a final page of 2001. 22 pages in all to cover 1,000,000 years. An 11,000 year sample. One Million Years Future is rendered in exactly the same way. A 26-page section in all. (What a blockbusting paragraph this is, consisting as it does of nothing but oddity.)

So there you have it. 'WORKS'. A part-objective, part-subjective, totally original way of presenting On Kawara's art from 1964 to 1995. Let's tip it towards objectivity, and order the sub-sections (Whole, Parts and Sub-parts) in terms of number of pages that build up to the 335 in this section:

Tokyo Date Painting process: 36 pages
Paris Date Painting Process: 36
I MET: 31
I AM STILL ALIVE etc: 32
Date Paintings: 31
I READ: 29
Million Years Past: 27
Million Years Future: 27
I WENT: 22
DRAWINGS: 21
I GOT UP: 15
Date Painting Studio photos 1966: 10
CODES: 8
1965 Paintings: 4
CALENDAR: 2
Other pages: 4

On Kawara's work (his 'WORKS') is book-ended by the process of Date Painting and the printed dates of a million years back and a million years forward. Which seems appropriate.

I suppose you could do with break, dear reader. No such luck. Here is the contents page relating to part two of Whole and Parts:

enqlu8rsrwu03w3002bhm9eva_thumb_1060b Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of les presses du réel.

The above resembles an 'I MET' list more than anything else. Perhaps the information can be more usefully summarised as follows. It should be noted that each text is reproduced in the language it was first written in. I've put those texts that can be read in English (either because they're written in English or can be found in translation in another book), in red.

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Please note especially the 'Japanese' column. These are not available in translation. This decision meant that when On Kawara: Whole and Parts was published, the artist was keeping apart his English-speaking and European audience, which had been growing since the sixties, and his Japanese audience, which had (with one notable exception) only begun when he'd started to spend part of his life in Japan from the beginning of the eighties.

However, a smart phone will give a rough translation of these Japanese texts, and so I have been able to gain an impression of their tone and content. It is perhaps an obvious thing that the Japanese would approach On Kawara in a different way to Westerners. With more warmth, because On Kawara was a fellow-countryman. With more admiration, for the same reason. And with more curiosity. He was one of the family, after all.

I shouldn't try and make too much of this. The list of 11 Japanese texts does contain a lot of art criticism closely related to what had been written by English and European art critics. But the list of 11 also contains two texts that are decidedly personal in their approach. That's the Katsusuke Miyaacuchi, which I discuss in the 1968 to 1972 essays, and the one by Haruomi Hosono which I will explore here.

Haruomi Hosono's text is called, 'I think I have no time', and it first appeared in a catalogue to accompany a Tokyo gallery showing of One Million Years in October 1983. I'll take the liberty of transcribing it once I've set the scene.

Who is Haruomi Hosono? He was a founder member of Yellow Magic Orchestra which was a world-famous Japanese band from the late Seventies onwards. One of their hits was 'You've Got Telegraph', and I think it was this that prompted On Kawara to get in touch with Haruomi. There is a website that presents Haruomi Hosono's engagement with the world in 1983, also available in computer-translated English, and it's from this that I've taken a couple of Screen Saves. In what follows '19' and '62' refer to sources. Unfortunately, the list of sources at the end of the webpage is not useful, and both 19 and 62 are obscure Japanese publications not available to me. So I can't follow them up. However, the text itself is fascinating as it stands:

sc5mvatgsyslpczlrns6vw_thumb_e185 Website

I think this tells us that On Kawara introduced himself to Haruomi by sending him a telegram. Clearly, they then got into conversation and On Kawara would seem to have introduced himself in a way that he wouldn't have done to a westerner. More down to earth.

Glitches in the translation must account for the statement that a Date Painting took several days to complete. Date Painting unto death is a 'joke' that On Kawara also made to Katsusuke Miyauchi.

'I don't know how to eat it.' Yes, that is a mystery line.

Back to the site:

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Clearly, Haroumi Hosono was impressed with this unique artist who had contacted him out of the blue. The end of the quote suggests he may have seen a Date Painting in progress. In which case it would have been 7JULY,1983 or 17JULY,1983 as these were the only Dates painted in the month that they met. Did On describe the beauty of the Kii Peninsula to Haroumi? That's close to certain Japanese cities that On made Date Paintings in.

There is one more relevant para:

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There are some stunning sentences in that. Perhaps it's how Edward Lear wrote his nonsense verse.

I think 'Mr. Wen' is 'Mr On.' I must have moved the camera.

'You can't do it until you pass it once and throw it all away.' Is that On Kawara talking about his pre-New York art career?

I may be wrong, but I think On Kawara is admitting his fascination with Carlos Castaneda. The American writer who wrote a series of books that purport to describe training in shamanism that he received under the tutelage of a Yaqui 'Man of Knowledge' named Don Juan. Castaneda gave a high-profile interview for Time in 1973 and then retired from public view for twenty years.

'I'm the kind of person who shows me how to live.' Is that On talking about himself? Or is the pronoun wrong and Haroumi is saying that On is the kind of person who he can learn from?

Here I must mention something more about Haroumi Hosono. In that same 1983, his co-founder of YMO, Ryiuchi Sakamoto, appeared with David Bowie in Merry Christmas, Mister Lawrence, and contributed the most sublime piece of music to it. To promote the film, Sakomoto, Haroumi and the other members of YMO met Bowie on a Japanese chat show. So it seems that David Bowie and On Kawara were both in Berlin in 1977. And they were both in Tokyo in 1983 where they were introduced to the same man, Haroumi Hosono. As readers of this website will know, the music of David Bowie has touched me to the core, and so he is with me in this exploration of On Kawara, who also, needless to say, hits the spot. This next pic shows David and Haroumi shaking hands.

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There was a lot of 'looking thoughtful' going on during the 'chat', as there was so much translation having to be done. That's David Bowie, second from left, and Haroumi Hosono towards the right.

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Are we ready for Haroumi's text now? As selected by On Kawara for Whole and Parts twelve years after its first appearance in a catalogue published by Galerei Watari, Tokyo? I think we are. First, in Japanese. I hope, dear reader, you've got Ryiuchi Sakamoto's Merry Christmas, Mister Lawrence playing in the background:

ydxbc2axq002borvd002blzug0025ia_thumb_10634 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Haroumi Hosono and les presses du réel..

And now in English, courtesy of some anonymous algorithm:

Haruomi Hosono

I don't think I have time. No, he is not only kind to me, but also to people who are alive right now, to people who have just been born. When I say I don't have time, I mean there is a limit. In other words, there are physical limits. Therefore, the body knows its limits. The body cannot think about a million years from now. It is promised that I don't know what lies ahead. My body can't understand the feeling of a million years. It can mark time, one day, one year. When a person's birthday comes, he feels a sense of pride as he becomes one year older. I also turned a year older the other day. And I know that my body day is approaching.

When you think that you are controlled by physical sensations, a million years can pass in one moment. Right now, my mind basically feels like 20 years have passed. I feel like there are only 20 years left. This is what's left to me, and while the time reigns between the earth.

In this way, my body is forced to think about what to do in this limited time. I think about that every day. It is a thought that is synthesized with greatness. Thinking about the body in this way is incomprehensible. Time: 1 day, 1 year. It would be more modern to say that it has been done. My heart knows that once I get through this 20-year quota, the rest is limitless, is controlled by the body, but is actually free. We're just dating. It is when I forget about my body that I feel a million years in one moment. It's a feeling you get in a dream. One night I was dreaming. It is a cube of rock set in a deep coffin, and looks like a coffin. Although the image is of a single object like this, the rock has endured for millions of years. Years pass by in a dream. The hoop does not change. Through this dream, I felt a great deal of time that my body could not know. Once you know it, you can evoke that feeling even during the day when your body is awake. This feeling is revived when it is turned into art. The same is true when looking at Atsushi Kawahara's works. This feeling is similar to gravity. Huge is like the weight of an enormous star. This means that time has weight.


1 sec. = x mng


I don't have time anymore. People are falling, being pulled by an infinite force. Now its acceleration is high. It's so fast that I can't sense the moment. Therefore, it is important to record the present.

Although the translation may have introduced the odd bit of codswallop into the text, it still has something fascinating about it. For example, the mind only being slave to the body for as long as the body exists (if only). For another thing, the age of a cube of rock.

A million years becomes a hundred million years becomes what? Well, why not 14 billion years, as that's just a bit older than the universe is said to be?

Is that a long time? It is nothing! It used to be thought, when the Bible was taken literally, that the universe had been around since God made it a few thousand years ago, for Adam and Eve. That seems ridiculous to the modern mind. However, just as outlandish is the idea that, prior to 14 billion years ago, there was NOTHING. What about 14 trillion years ago?

14 billion years is 14,000,000,000 years. What about 14,000,000,000,000 (quadrillion) years ago? What about 14,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years ago?

Me: "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

Scientist: "Oh, there's something now all right, but go back 14 billion years and you'll see there was nothing."

Me: "You have got to be joking!"

To illustrate just how short a time the so-called Universe has been around, let's create an installation, inspired by Million Years Past.

In that work, there are ten volumes, each volume having 200 pages, each page consisting of 500 years. 10 x 200 x 500 = 1,000,000. Here is an image of Million Years, taken from the Whole and Parts book. A photograph of the installation that Harouni Hosono saw and wrote the essay for.

2izelfwps1yplgriorndcq_thumb_e1c2 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of les presses du réel.


Now what we need is a town of 14,000 homes. On the dining room table of each home we instal the ten Million Years volumes, as above. That would give us your 14 billion years. The age of the universe!

Or take a town with a population of 140,000. Dundee, near me in Blairgowrie, would fit the bill. Or Kariya, where On Kawara was born. That would do just as well. And you give each man and woman and child in the town a single volume of Million Years, and you ask them to look up at the stars.

And both these installations represent the age of the universe in years.

What came before our universe? Millions of other universes, if you ask me. That is so obvious.

The numbers could be so much bigger. Look:


14,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.

Everything is relative. Just think, at 64 years and 146 days, I'm almost as old as the universe. And you, dear reader, are too.

Let's tabulate that:

Our age: 10-100 years.

The universe's age: 14,000,000,000 years.

A bigger number: 14,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.

Our own age is much closer to being equal to the age of the universe than it is to that last number.

Thank-you Haroumi Hosono. Thank-you On Kawara. Thank-you, St. Andrews' University Library. Too bad I will have to return the wonderful book to the library before the end of the year. For now I will endeavour to enjoy the weight of its wisdom.


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TWO: 2023

Not just 2023, but December 2023. It had been bothering me, that hole in the bookshelf which appeared when Whole and Parts had to be returned to the library at the end of 2022. So when I saw a copy advertised for £100 plus £40 postage from America I decided to buy it. Alas, the shop in Charleston, Massachusetts, wanted a total of £90 postage and said there would be VAT as well, so the deal fell through.

Three months later, the book was still listed as previously and so I tried again, saying up front that I really wanted the book though I couldn't pay any more than the listing price (£100 + £40) for it. This time the New England store went for the deal, and so I waited the few weeks before the happy day came that I would once again be in possession of Whole and Parts.

After a fortnight I was informed that the book had been flown to Heathrow but was being held in customs in or near Coventry. I figured this would mean a long delay followed by preposterous tax, excess postage and handling charges. But a couple of days later there was a knock on my front door. The cheerful delivery guy said: "I don't know what this is, but it feels like a paving stone." I smiled, adding: "All the way from the good ol' U. S. of A."

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Ownership is a step up from possession. And I hope that how I research the book this time around, and what I write about it, responds to my new privilege. Let's start by really considering that little note on the back cover.

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Is it even true? The word 'always' seems a bit much. But even without that, is it really while looking at the part that the whole is seen to be moving?

Why not? Take this website. At first glance it just sits there on the web, a mass of information. You have to open up and read one of the essays to see that the body of knowledge is in a state of flux and that ideas are being added to and reshaped wherever you choose to look.

There is another note that I hadn't given much attention to. Sitting there on one of the preliminary pages that come after the pages of numbers big and small.

ihiwees0q002bg3vmsx0hzacg_thumb_10613 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of les presses du réel.

Is 'hole' a play on the word 'whole'? I don't think so, as: 'To make a whole in a day as a nap' doesn't take us anywhere. Maybe 'To make a whole day into a nap' makes more sense. Especially at the end of a year (1966) where On Kawara made 241 Date Paintings. The days where he didn't make Dates must have indeed seemed like naps.

Of course, the main hole in a day is made by an eight-hour sleep. When its woken up from, an old day has gone and the new day has started. You get up. You go out. You meet people. Or you don't. You stay put. To make a hole in a day as a book. Now we're talking. Let's get stuck in. Again. Let's twist again. Like we did last summer.

Three parts to the book. (As before.) the first part is still 'WORKS'. What I didn't emphasise enough last year, was that in 1996, when On Kawara was putting together this book, he was only painting two Dates per month from January to October and he had stopped doing 'I READ' in conjunction with the Date Paintings after twenty-nine years (1967 to 1995). So I think he would have taken special care over the choice of ' I READ' for the volume. Being one sample per year for all the twenty-nine years.

Two of the days that On Kawara selected in this section are blank. On Kawara read nothing about 2 JAN. 1971. This was on his first return visit to the Japan that he had left years before. And so the sub-title of the day was simply the day "2 JAN.1971"


kujb5vzireuzonfcmmrvfq_thumb_e17c Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.


21 July 1989 got the same treatment, again away when On Kawara painted the date in Japan. What did On Kawara have against Japanese newspapers? Perhaps he blamed them for Japanese imperialist values which had caused the nation to go to war with the United States in his childhood.

A third 'I READ' corresponds with a Date Painting made in Japan in this section. It's on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

a3nwonr2susllj002bxvouoxq_thumb_e17f Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.


By pointing my phone at this text, I'm told that the headlines say 'JAPAN 100 factory inspection' along the top. Then 'Chemical Weapons Convention, general agreement' down the right side. 'Strict control of dyes and pesticides' is mentioned. So perhaps that is all speaking of a kind of progress.

The following is the 'I READ' he chose to represent the final year, when he was in Reykjavik. Does that imply he could read Icelandic? Perhaps he got someone to translate these bits of the paper for him.

0xniz1yiqkupoy9zwomr002bw_thumb_e176 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The sheer quality of the reproduction on shiny photographic paper makes these 29 pages so valuable. True, as from 2023, Tama Art University has made all the 'I READ' available, and what a valuable resource that is. But to avoid making the edition of 'I READ' printed by Michelle Didier in 2016 valueless, the images are kept to a low or medium quality. So here is the very last 'I READ', with its story about the world's oldest woman, Jeanne Calmam, who knew Vincent Van Gogh in Arles.

0025urksqasqaoi1ebouljkog_thumb_104ed Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.


One can only read the words in the clippings with effort. Accordingly, the reproductions preserved to us in the pages of Whole and Parts are of great value. For those alone I would have paid £140.

The second section is 'TEXTS', thirty of them. I said previously that they are all reproduced in the language they first appeared in. I said that this kept On Kawara's audiences (American, European and Japanese) apart. But I suspect On Kawara's real reason for sticking to the original language is that this is exactly what he did in his work. Not only was each Date Painting abbreviated according to the language and custom of wherever it was painted (the English speaking world, German, French, Spanish etc.), the newspaper clippings filed in 'I READ' and lining the Date Painting boxes were in the language of the city he was staying in at the time.

Of course, the exception is Japanese. On Kawara used Esperanto when painting his Dates in Japan, but (after 1971) he used the Japanese language newspapers for the corresponding box lining and for 'I READ'.

Last year, I didn't get round to considering the third section of the book, 'EXHIBITIONS' not in this essay, anyway. Though you'll find that other essays are peppered with illustrations taken from there. There are a lot of these photographs, summarised over two contents' pages of which this is the first:

tyfiorwosdmqvfznjst7uw_thumb_1060a Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of les presses du réel.

This was a good opportunity to for On Kawara to make available images of small shows that hadn't the benefit of their own catalogues. I don't suppose On Kawara collected the mass of photographs himself. I say again that the first page of the book states that On Kawara 'proposed' the book and that two of his long term supporters in the French art world, Xavier Douroux and Franck Gautherot, 'edited' it.

mpdqp1otqd6untlp002b3eska_thumb_1060d Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of les presses du réel.

Take the entry for Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1991, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1992, two-thirds down this second page. There are seven pages of photos of the show 'Date Paintings in 89 Cities'. Of course, there is a fine catalogue to go with the touring show, but it does not show the Date Paintings as they hung in glorious isolation on the walls of the galleries. Instead, it shows each painting alongside the newspaper-lined box that it was stored in. So On Kawara used the pages of Whole and Parts to communicate this important aspect of his exhibition.

On Kawara also devoted three colour pages to the exhibition at Chateau d'Orion, 1993, as there was no catalogue to this important show. And I haven't seen photos of the year-long exhibition at the Dia Centre for the Arts, 1993, anywhere else, while in Whole and Parts On Kawara uses 12 photos over seven pages to show the story of that evolving extravaganza.

I am going to write a separate chapter called 'The Artist is Present', about the 1995 show, at Kolnischer Junstverein, Cologne. And the six pages of photographs in Whole and Parts will help with that. By 1996 there was no catalogue to that exhibition. Then in 1997 one did appear, and an exquisite little beauty it is too. But it doesn't include this image:

e7snc88gsw2uarj0ufutfa_thumb_e19e Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of les presses du réel.

Mind you, it took me ages to realise that this photo had been flipped on its vertical axis. Very confusing as the show was called 'On Kawara: Appear/Disappear'.

d8fphqbfq8ors7p0025b9r3tw_thumb_e1a5 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of les presses du réel.

The flipping gave the impression that the door in the gallery visible in the top photo had disappeared. But the photo 'should' have appeared as this next one:

qlu68ufztwkjlbsyyijyaw_thumb_e225 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of les presses du réel.

A mistake by the editors or a provocation by the proposer? I will have a lot more to say about this in 'The Artist is Present', coming to this website very soon.

And remember, dear reader, it's always always always while looking at the part that the whole is seen to be moving.





THREE: TODAY

Yesterday, while doing what I was doing re Whole and Parts, which involved an awful lot of opening and closing of the book, I noticed something about the cover. The dullest cover of any book in the world (you might say) is actually the most exciting cover of all. Just wait til you get to the end of this text, dear reader, and and hopefully you'll agree.

icizzgk5r0025002bgxly44q43ng_thumb_10629 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The cover displays a fraction of a total text. The numbers continue over the inside front cover and for several end papers, making eight pages in all. But the last word 'hun-' and the first word at the top of several endpapers at the back of the book 'dred' suggest that the text continues for another eight pages, ending with the inside back cover and the back cover. Phew.

It's just large and small numbers, right? Well, that's what I'd been assuming up until yesterday. But I now realise that some numbers begin with capital letters. And that two-thirds of the way down the front cover, there is a question-mark at the end of a 'sentence' of numbers. In short, it is a code. I knew straight away that it would be incredibly difficult to decipher this code. Why? Because it had been devised by On Kawara. But that didn't put me off. I have faith in my process. And by displaying this process in the remainder of this text it means I simply cannot fail.

So here goes. Let's look at the first 'sentence'. It continues down to the sixth line and includes eight numbers, some preposterously large and some preposterously small. In order to get to the question-mark, there are fifteen such 'sentences' to negotiate. The number of 'words' or numbers in each ''sentence' being, eight, seven, nine, three, three, two, four, four, five, one, one, three, eight, one and five. If this text is meant to translate into English, then the two single words side by side surely present a problem.

But let's park that, and get back to the first 'sentence', expressing each number numerically and separating them by semi-colons for maximum clarity:

0.42506729; 78,592,050; 141,702; 0.00756; 0.0408; 7040; 0.05014; 459,303

It hits me that 'whole and parts' specifically means whole numbers between one and infinity (such as the second number, 78,592,050) and parts of the number 1 (such as the first number, 0.42506729).

Good. But how does this code work? How is one to interpret the whole numbers? How is one to decipher the fractions? The same way or in different ways? What happens if I multiply all those numbers in the first 'sentence' together. Hmm, not useful as one gets an outlandishly large number.

More useful might be to scan the full text to see what is going on. Let my eye pick up on the more manageable numbers. This exercise gets me somewhere as the number 'five' crops up four times on the front cover and the number 'one' crops up twice, with no other numbers between one and nine occurring at all. What else? 16 is the only number between 11 and 19 and it occurs twice. 71 crops up twice and so does 72. The number 600 crops up three times. Surely these are all significant happenings. But what is the significance?

As I go through pages two to eight, I pick up on the following. This is not an exhaustive list of numbers that keep cropping up, but these do seem to occur in what I loosely understand to be a statistically significant way:

Page two: 17, 72 (2 times), 600,

Page three: 5 (4 times), 17 (4), 72 (2)

Page four: 5 (2 times), 17 (2), 72 (5), 206 (3)

Page five: 5 (2 times), 17 (1), 72 (1), 206 (3), 600 (2)

Page six: 1 (2 times), 5 (2), 17, 19, 72 (2)

Page seven: 19 (3 times), 72, 206 (2), 600 (6)

Page eight: 1, 5 , 17 (2 times), 19 (2), 72 (5), 206 (2), 600 (2)

Totals of pages 1-8: 5 (15 times), 17 (11 times), 72 (18 times), 206 (10 times), 600 (14 times)

I might come back later and number crunch the last eight pages, those at the back of the book. But let's leave that exercise for now, as it involves drawing circles around numbers in my valuable book and a certain amount of eye strain. I don't see that blinding myself should be prioritised at this stage.

But let it be emphasised, that the number five, crops up fifteen times in eight pages, with the number one (five times) being the only number between one and nine that crops up at all. Other points to note are as follows. Although it's the number '16' that is on page one, 17 then becomes dominant, only for some examples of 19 to creep in towards the end. Less ambiguous, is the importance from start to finish of numbers 72, 206 and 600.

Now for a completely different angle of attack. In the book On Kawara: Silence, published in the year after On Kawara's death, another 'numbers' code is reproduced. It consists of six pages rather than sixteen as you can see from this double-page spread.

hlubbywvrqifozmq002b8pxua_thumb_1062f Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Actually, the numbers are even bigger and smaller than the ones in the Whole and Parts code. This can be illustrated by the title (page one, on the left of the double-page spread) which states:


code

Eight quintillion eight hundred two quadrillion fifty-seven trillion two hundred one billion eight hundred fifty million five hundred four thousand one hundred and eight ten quillionths two hundred five trillion six billion seven hundred twelve million nine hundred ninety-five thousand one hundred eighty.

On Kawara


Actually, that consists of two numbers. A whole number and a part, or fraction. The whole number being the second one: 205,006,712,995,180. And the fraction being the first: 0.8802057201850504108. Let's multiply these and see what we get… Well, I don't have to do that, we get a very large number as the fraction is not much less than 1. So forget that.

However, this code needs to be studied before returning to the Whole and Parts code as it looks a lot more breakable for several reasons. First, we're told that it is from 1969. Now that's the year of the Apollo moon landing, when On Kawara did his largest ever Date Paintings in homage to the event. The title and the date of the code that I'm investigating from the Whole and Parts book are both unstated and unknown. Second, one of the twelve paragraphs of the text has several 'sentences' which begin with the number 'five'. Third, another of the paragraphs contains 'sentences' which begin and end with double quotation marks, suggesting dialogue. Perhaps these groups of numbers really are 'sentences'. Oh yes, I feel we can get somewhere with this.

orqzwkfitdosou0025lfia0ca_thumb_1062e Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Let me transcribe the 'Dialogue' paragraph that I've boxed bottom left in the above photo:

"0.3509; 42,000; 927, 6058!"?
"0.3509; 6058; 927; 42,000!"?
"0.4044; 92; 600; 60,297; 0.12!"?
"385,067; 0.7008; 927; 675,030,976!"?
"0.75089; 0.750702; 0.75089!"?
"0.65608167; 0.51016!"?
"913,029; 6056; 7040; 290!"?
"0.8203031 0.885036!"?
"600; 42,000; 0.350228; 354,002!"?
"5005; 50, 151,967; 7040; 60,544!"?
"60,547; 3,169,002; 410,006!"?
"620,809; 17; 72; 0.3!"?

Well, while I don't know if this is a dialogue taking place on the moon, it would seem to be a possibility. Every exchange is both an exclamation and a question. The second 'sentence' contains the same elements as the first 'sentence', but in a slightly different order. And note the presence of these old favourites: 17, 72 (both in line 12) and 600 (line 3). The presence of these numbers tell me that this may indeed be the same code as was used in the Whole and Parts code.

The above transcription is numbered paragraph 9 of the coded text. It's para five that contains the number 'five' no less than seven times. On each occasion at the start of a 'sentence' that is a question. Though none of the 'sentences' have quotation marks to suggest they are spoken. I could transpose the paragraph sentence by sentence as I've done for para 9, but I've done enough of that eye-straining work with the magnifying glass for now, so let's move on while I can still blink relatively painlessly.

In 2022, while writing up On Kawara's 1969, I managed to crack a code that was called 'Voices on the Moon'. It was eight-pages long and each of the pages looked like this:

uhyszu5frrirkvsj002buwpja_thumb_e20e Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

A year on, this looks straightforward enough. It was just a matter of working out which letter stood for which combination of colour strokes. There are five colours, and each letter consists of two ticks. Now 5 x 5 = 25. So that the possible colour combinations accounted for 25 letters. And I eventually realised that the 26th letter 'W' was achieved by having two 'V' letters side by side. To begin with, I had to allocate 'A' and 'I' to the singleton letter words. Then 'O' was worked out from the number of times it crops up as a double-letter. And the letters after a single quote were also possible to work out fairly easily. And gradually things fell into place as I did a bit of word-spotting, so that halfway through the exercise I had this:

8casbwdnswaktifr4gu1xw_thumb_e196

And by the end of an exciting morning, the transcription of page one read:

mesiuy3wqxcqp0025bm0025essxa_thumb_e19d

Again I'd put emphasis on process, taking regular photographs of my progress, so that even if I'd not managed to crack the code, the resulting text would have been sufficiently engaging. So when I later read online that an invigilator at the 'SILENCE' show in 2015 had also cracked this code, my sense of self-satisfaction was hardly affected.

How does this help me today? Well, the codes are of a completely different kind. But it gives me some confidence that what we have is a description of something that took place on the moon, perhaps a conversation (without double quotes) between Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin or between Neil Armstrong and ground control at Houston.

Neil: "It's a small fraction for man, but a whole number for mankind."

So why are the huge numbers and the tiny numbers linked to the Apollo 11 space mission? Well, first, there are the massive distances involved in astronomy. The millions of miles between the stars and planets in the sky. While the smaller numbers are about precision, moving a rocket from a stationary position on earth, via a lunar orbit, to a stationary position on the moon. Whole and Parts. Scale and precision.

I hope, dear reader, you begin to see why the cover of Whole and Parts is so apt. In July 1969, the human race set foot on the moon. On Kawara commemorated the event like no other. He stayed in his studio all day on July 16, 1969 for blast off. JULY 16, 1969 He stayed in his studio all day on July 20, 1969, for the moon walk. JULY 20, 1969 And he stayed in his studio painting all day on July 21 for splashdown. JULY 21, 1969 Result, a triptych of size 'H' paintings, the biggest Date Paintings he ever made. He did make a handful of other size 'H' paintings in later years, but in no case was this to commemorate anything except his own Date Painting process. What he was doing was ensuring he had a size 'H' Date Painting for the seven days of the week from Monday through to Sunday to go with his three Moon Days of '69.

So how appropriate that when he was putting together his 700-page retrospective catalogue in 1996, as a 63-year-old man, that he referred to this high-point in his life and career, though in the most obscure way.

qcnjs6ixtmuiwezmxdiwrw_thumb_10632 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of les presses du réel.

109:43:16 Aldrin: "Beautiful view."

109: 43: 18 Armstrong: "Isn't that something! Magnificent sight out here."

109:43:24 Aldrin: "Magnificent desolation."

I wonder if the ridiculously large and small numbers can simply be disregarded and something can be made of the numbers from the tenths to the thousands, say. After all, the inconceivably large distances to the stars don't crop up in everyday life. And we don't need to refer to the sub-atomic scale while eating our three square meals either. Perhaps 17, 206 and 600 are code for things like other human beings, buildings and clouds. Yes, maybe there is something in that. How about this for a conversation that starts off in code:

Andy Warhol: "Seventeen… two hundred and six… six hundred."

Joseph Beuys: "Five… seventeen… five… two hundred and six… seventy two."

Andy Warhol: " High fives!"?

Joseph Beuys: "High fives!"

On Kawara: "Eight quintillion eight hundred two quadrillion fifty-seven trillion two hundred one billion eight hundred fifty million five hundred four thousand one hundred and eight ten quillionths… two hundred five trillion six billion seven hundred twelve million nine hundred ninety-five thousand one hundred and eighty."

Joseph Beuys: "All the buttons in my fishing jacket have pinged off."

And Warhol: "My wig's on fire."

I think I've made progress today. But I'm not quite there yet. Which is something that is going to bug me, despite what I said about relying on process as a backstop. How can I put it? I'm tempted to put it like this:

Aldrin: "Fuck me, moonside. Fuck me sweet.
Fuck me down the cobbled street."

Armstrong: "Buzz. Request from Houston. Mind your language!"

Aldrin: "Fuck me moondust. Fuck me queer.
Fuck me anywhere but here."

Armstrong: "Buzz. Order from Houston. Cut it out right now!"

Aldrin: "Fuck me, moontime. Fuck me rich.
Fuck me in a roadside ditch."

Armstrong: "Jesus, Buzz!"

Aldrin: "It's OK, Neil. I'm not swearing. It's code! It's a supercool code! Though I dare say it's way over the heads of those dry nuts at NASA."

A little later in the transcription:

112:45:28 Armstrong: "Eight quintillion eight hundred two quadrillion fifty-seven trillion two hundred one billion eight hundred fifty million five hundred four thousand one hundred and eight ten quillionths."

112:45:32 Aldrin: "So sorry, Neil. I've completely forgotten the code."

109:43:38 Armstrong: "Two hundred five trillion six billion seven hundred twelve million nine hundred ninety-five thousand one hundred eighty!"?

109:43.44. Aldrin: "You can boil your head aussi, Neil. I for one have had enough. I'm outta here, moon-buddy."