1970 (2)

If meticulously creating a Date Painting a day, every day, took up On Kawara's attention in the first three months of the year, then typing out the last million years, year by year, kept him busy thereafter.

But how busy? That depends on what the artist actually did. It was more a cutting, pasting and photocopying job than a typing one. But whatever mundane activity was involved, a great deal of organisation, discipline and precision was needed. As with the ongoing, immaculate Date Painting.

A Million Years Past was begun in 1970, but , I suspect, only finished in 1971. The completed work is in ten volumes. Each volume has 200 pages. On each page are five hundred consecutive yearly dates. It is dedicated 'For all those who have lived and died.' In other words, for all those that can no longer write an 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegram. As On Kawara did a few days into July, this one being delivered to Adrian van Ravesteijn, in Amsterdam, on July 10, 1970.

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

The Million Years Past volumes are in some ways a reaction to the telegram work, and On Kawara must have taken pleasure in continuing to be able to send his STILL ALIVE telegram whilst looking back over the vast stretch of time in which previous generations had lived but who lived no longer. The 'lived no longer' bouncing and sizzling off the 'still alive'. The last million years putting the present day in poignant perspective.

In Guggenheim's
SILENCE catalogue, Anne Wheeler suggests that A Million Years Past came out of a previous work: 'In 1969, Kawara had created a similar work titled 10,000 Years, in which he typed each of the dates from 8030 BC to 1970 AD in sequence, one at time. This laborious experience led him to devise the cut-and-paste technique used to create One Million Years, which involved gluing columns of single digits to typed and photocopied grids of numbers. A page listing dates from 500 to 1 BC could readily be adapted to make one listing the years 1500 to 1001 BC, and so on.'

This last bit may be a little glib. Whichever way On Kawara set about his task would have involved some typing and
a great deal of pasting and photocopying. And while the artist may well have begun at the present and worked his way into the past, the actual books begin in the past and work towards the present day. By and large, On Kawara liked to take a chronological approach in his work, so I'm going to assume that he may have done so on this occasion.

The first page in the first volume, in its transparent plastic sleeve, only contains 31 years. This is because the artist is setting his pages up so that numbers will line up (from 0 to 9) in subsequent pages, simplifying the process of creating new pages.

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

So page 2 is set out as follows. If On Kawara did start in the past and work towards the present, he would have typed out this page in its entirety.

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

On Kawara didn't want to go through all that again. Think how many times on that single page he has had to type 'BC'. (500!) And he doesn't have to. Basically all he has to do is change the 4th figure in each number. In the top block of 100 years, (after changing 998000 to 997500, which involves changing 80 to 75), he is covering nine columns of '9' with nine columns of '4'. In the next block of 100 years he is basically covering rows of the figure '8' with rows of the figure '3'.

Where did he get the columns of single figures from? From photocopies of page 2, above, the single page that he has typed in full.

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

As you can see from my scribbled and hasty workings, instead of having to type out 80 characters in a row, the artist is only having to replace 10 or 11. Quite a fiddly job, though. And as On Kawara wouldn't want to glue figures onto columns of already glued figures (as he went onto page 4, etc) , he would keep going back to his page 2 in order to make whatever page he was up to. Say page 15, for example. Page 15 would be created from page 2 with a little more work than was needed for page 3. I've begun that on the next illustration:

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

In the first block of 100 numbers (apart from the very first number), '79' (the 3rd and 4th figures in each number) has to be changed to 14', as I've marked. In the second block of 100 numbers (apart from the first number), '78' has to be changed to '13'. I've not marked the second block as this is an incredibly tedious process, unless one has a clear motivation for doing it for any length of time. Which On Kawara clearly did.

How did Kawara integrate this work into his daily routine? Perhaps he only worked on his
Million Years on day's when he wasn't Date Painting. Perhaps he set himself a target of ten pages per non-Date Painting day. This seems reasonable (not ludicrously overambitious), as the cutting of columns of numbers and placing over the pro-forma sheet, would need to have been done very accurately. But if it was 10 pages per day. Then in 20 days he would have created the first volume of ten. So in ten months of 20-day slots he would have completed the project: A Million Years Past.

From what I can work out, the year of creation was 1970-71. This makes sense, as the months available for working on
Million Years wouldn't have begun until April, and wouldn't have extended beyond October, as On Kawara travelled to Tokyo on November 14, as we'll soon see. So that's seven months rather than ten. True On Kawara could have pushed himself harder and completed the project in 1969. But he - and only he - would have been the best judge of the daily workload that he could comfortably manage. There was I GOT UP, I WENT, I MET to keep up with as well, remember. And his entire artistic practice was supposed to be conducive to meditation and an aid to consciousness. Not a recipe for stress.

Let's try and integrate this back into 1970. Only 2 DPs were made in April and May, and 5 in June. An excellent opportunity to get
Million Years Past underway. Meanwhile, postcards were going to Dan Graham (Feb to beginning of July) and to Herman van Eelen (May to beginning of September).

When the postcards to Dan Graham stopped, they began to go too R. Kostelanetz. At least, there were cards to him on July 8 and 9 (now at MOMA, New York) and the following was from late October.

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

That illustration is taken from the 2015 Guggenheim catalogue, which seems appropriate. Who was R. Kostelanetz? Richard Kostelanetz, born 1940, came onto the literary scene with essays in quarterlies such as Partisan Review and The Hudson Review, then profiles of older artists, musicians and writers for The New York Times Magazine. These profiles were collected in Master Minds. It may be that On Kawara read the stuff which appeared in the NYT. Yes, maybe a search through 'I READ' would reveal that.

Seventy-two On Kawara postcards to R. Kostelanetz were sold by Christie's in 2007. Each had been mailed on
a date from September 4 to November 14, 1970, the day that On Kawara flew to Tokyo. So it may be that there was a break in the sequence that began on July 8 and ended on November 14, as that would have been 139 cards in all.

In Kostelanetz's book
Dictionary of the Avant Gardes, the entry for On Kawara reads:


In short, Richard Kostelanetz was a writer, as much interested in literary arts as visual arts, who wasn't close to On Kawara in 1970 or later. On Kawara chose to send him postcards because the two shared an interest in the
avant garde.

In July, On Kawara painted nine Date Paintings. Three were subtitled the day of the week in which they were painted, and hint that On Kawara may have been doing less reading than usual. However, the other six subtitles take us…

…from the US presence in Viet Nam…

…to the Soviet Union's Communist party's congress…

…to pollution in the US…

…to the hijack of a Greek airliner involving Arab commandos…

…to Israel's government's response to the US peace plan in the Middle East.

In August, only one DP was made in the first half of the month, perhaps because On Kawara was preparing for a fortnight's travel to and through Canada. It can be seen from the day's I WENT (see below) that On Kawara arrived at Buffalo (red line, bottom right) from New York on August 24, and visited the Niagara Falls (red line, top left) before returning to the middle of Buffalo to sleep.

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

Possibly, the postcards sent at this time would have been of the Niagara Falls. I will try and find out.

On August 25, a Date Painting was made, its subtitle concerning a passenger plane, flying from Bangkok to Hong Kong, which came frighteningly close to three US Air Force planes near the coast of Viet Nam. I mean frightening for the people on the passenger plane, not the fighter pilots. Many passengers had to be hospitalised on landing.

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

On Kawara was travelling with Hiroko Hiraoka. At least that is what I deduce from the 'I MET' of August 26, where hers is the only name on the daily list of people who On Kawara talked with.

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

Date Paintings in 89 Cities is a book that comes into its own at this point. Its raison d'etre of reproducing a Date Painting made in every city that On Kawara visited (until 1992) provides five images hereabouts. The next image acknowledges its importance to this text, along with the perennially useful On Kawara - SILENCE. One begins to suspect how much On Kawara was involved in the choice of material to represent the I GOT UP, I WENT and I MET series.


The day after being alone with Hiroko, On Kawara painted this in Toronto.

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

Its subtitle is: "4,800 tonnes of lead daily are being dumped into the Lower Mississippi River."

Actually, On Kawara made two Date Paintings that day, so the above images's subtitle might just as easily be: "Three carloads of gunmen assassinated Jose Alonso, one of Argentina's most influential Peronist labor leaders, as he drove to his office today."

Neither of these possible subtitles is evident on that part of the
Buffalo News which On Kawara has used to line his painting's box. But an appendix to Date Painting in 89 Cities tells me that the painting reproduced above is the one subtitled "Three carloads of gunmen…"

I'm thinking that August 28 was a travelling day, because the next date painting was on August 29, in Ottawa. Its sub-title being concerned with Los Angeles rioting.

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

The length of stays in these Canadian cities is little more than overnight. Perhaps On Kawara was accompanying Hiroko who had some reason for making the journey. But I don't think sightseeing could have been the purpose, not when the days would seem to have been principally either travelling or Date Painting days.

By the way, the August 29, 1970, Date Painting appears in Candida Hofer's book, as shown below. Third from the left of the row, and perfectly legible in the book itself.

Candida Hofer. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

O.K.: "Strap yourself in, love. The pilot has just said it could be a bumpy ride."

H.H.: "Remind me, On. Why are we doing this?"

I suspect they flew from Ottawa to Quebec on Aug 29, and by 31 August, On Kawara was painting two more Date Paintings.

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

Their subtitles are in French, the language of this city. One commemorates the death of Francois Mauriac. The other translates from the French as: "Federalism would have cost Quebec a million dollars in five years."

Next, over to Montreal, where On Kawara painted three DPs in two days.

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

The subtitle of the above again concerns Quebec, and the pros and cons of provincialism/independence.

I think that makes nine paintings, all size B, in ten days. I wonder if Hiroko got a chance to do - or see - what she wanted to do or see in Canada. I hope so.

Back in New York, On Kawara painted three more date paintings in September, dated the 11th, 22nd and 27th. But each was subtitled the day of the week. Perhaps he was back into his
Million Years and didn't have so much time for the reading of international news.

Who was On Kawara sending cards to at this time? To Herman van Eelen and to Richard Kostelanetz. But Herman dropped out of the rota in the first half of September. To be replaced by who? I'm not sure. I'll have to come back to this.

'I MET' for September 10, consists of Hiroko Hiraoka, Joseph Skorupa and Edward F . Fry. The latter was a curator and art historian. I don't know who Joseph Skorupa was. Will he crop up again? It doesn't matter that I don't know. The picture I am building up in these pages is already detailed, already multi-layered. It will never be complete or perfect.

Seven Date paintings in October, first with these four subtitles that I've paraphrased:

OCT.8, 1970: In Paris, the Communist delegations to the Viet Nam peace talks denounced U.S. President Nixon's proposals.

OCT.9,1970: Despite opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, Italy's Senate voted today to legalise divorce.

OCT.13,1970: Canada and Communist China established diplomatic relations.

OCT.14: Three nuclear explosions by China, the Soviet Union and the United States today.

On Kawara seemingly getting back in the swing of the news. As he had been during the first three months of the year.

I have an 'I MET' from October 24. Given Hiroko Hiraoka's place on the list, I would suggest it means that these first four names were in On Kawara's company until after midnight on October 23. Lucy Lippard and Seth Siegelaub were partners, at least the postcards that On Kawara sent to Seth in November and December went to 138 Prince Street, where Lucy Lippard had received postcards in 1969. Daniel Buren was an artist as well, who I will introduce when the time seems right. In other words, to appear on an I MET list is not as sure a sign of importance in On Kawara's integrated life/work as receiving postcard a day from him for upwards of a month.

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

Seth Siegelaub, still receiving postcards, was an American-born art dealer, curator, author and researcher, best known for his innovative promotion of conceptual art in New York in the 1960s and '70s. Quoting from Wikipedia: 'He was the first exhibition organizer to specialize in dealing with conceptual art, holding group exhibitions that had no existence outside of the catalogue, and was an active "independent curator", organizing 21 art exhibitions, books, catalogues and projects, throughout the USA, Canada and Europe between February 1968 and July 1971 in a wide range of new and original formats, including several important group shows, such as "The Xeroxbook" in December 1968, and "January 5–31, 1969" exhibition, which contained no objects, no paintings and no sculptures.'

In January 1969, Siegelaub organised an exhibition called 'One Month: March 1 - 31, 1969' with a call-out to 31 artists and a deadline of February 15. On Kawara was allocated March 17. That should have been right up his street, but I suspect the mail didn't get to him in South America. His was one of the empty pages in the catalogue. Anyway, it doesn't seem to have spoiled their friendship as Siegelaub went on to get postcards fro
m On Kawara in November and December of 1970.

On the 24th of October, I think it's likely that On Kawara was with Hiroko Hiraoka, and that they enjoyed something of a Japanese day, since the last six names on the 'I MET' list would all seem to be Japanese.

Back to Date Painting and paraphrased subtitles as I try and speed this up:

OCT.29,1970: Toxic levels of mercury have been found in the livers of Alaskan fur seals.

OCT.30,1970: A researcher from Yale, using the fossil record, has suggested what sort of life style prompted the first birds to fly.

OCT.31,1970: Towns in Kashmir, Pakistan, are attracting tourists from China.

Right. I've bashed through May to November (a single Date Painting was made on November 11) in order to get to this significant date. On Kawara flew unaccompanied to Tokyo on November 14. In the two and a half months he was there, he only made five Date Paintings. And I doubt if he was able to progress his
Million Years Past while away from his studio. Why did he go? Maybe we will find out.

When he arrived in Tokyo, he let Hiroko know that he had survived the long journey. A loving touch:


Picture On Kawara flying to his homeland. He was 37 years old, and alone. He'd left Japan in 1959, at the age of 26. He'd been 13 when - living in Kariya (red pin in map below) - the atomic bombs had fallen on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (both located towards the south of the island). He'd moved north to Tokyo, to art school, and been part of the
avant garde there, but he hadn't been able to settle. And so he'd flown to Mexico in '59, able to do so because his father was working there as an engineer. I suppose escaped is more to the point. He escaped Japan in 1959.


Actually, I'm assuming On Kawara was visiting his family after being away from them for more than ten years. Perhaps having been part of the 10th Tokyo Biennale meant that he was also following up some art contacts in Tokyo. Both possibilities will be borne in mind.

The postcards On Kawara sent show he was staying in Setagaya City, a district to the south and west of the middle of Tokyo, close to a bridge over the River Tama. The address is marked by the green tack in the map below.


'I WENT' for November 22, 1970, shows that On Kawara walked from a house (near the bottom of the following map) and took a train to the north. His destination was a densely populated residential area, possibly to meet a friend or a relative.

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

Let's focus on the house he travelled from. The following map detail (taken from the 'I MET'of Nov. 27) suggests a traditional Japanese rural scene.

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

What is the address of the house? 1-4-6 Tamagawacho, per this postcard.

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

1-4-6 Tamagawacho, apparently means sub-area 1, block 4, building 6. When this is fed into Google in 2021, the address picked up is this one:


A distinguished suburban area, made up of houses of a variety of designs. Though remember that this a photo taken fifty years later.


From this suburb on the hill, On Kawara walked down to the train station on both November 22 and November 27. Perhaps the path really did meander back then, in the way he drew his red line. It is not such a winding road nowadays.


I know the above aerial views are basically of the right place, because On Kawara's 'I WENT' maps confirm as much. A pleasant walk, surely; then and now.


With roadside trees, neat gardens and a temple. If this was anything like the outskirts of Tokyo in 1970, it wasn't so bad a place to live.


On November 27, On Kawara didn't travel quite as far as on the 22nd, but on the same railway line. He got out of his train at a built up area, Shinjuku Station. That's about eight miles from home. He didn't walk more than a few hundred yards from the station. Perhaps he ate a meal. Perhaps he bought stuff. Or met someone. Who knows? 'I MET' for the day would help.


Below is how Shinjuku City appears in 2021. A heavily built-up area, teeming with commerce.


So the question remains: what did On Kawara do for the next month, before making his first Date Painting in Japan? One thing he would have had to do is come to terms with a shocking event. Yukio Mishima killed himself in a ritualised way by sticking a sword into his stomach, slicing his belly open and disembowelling himself.

Now Mishima was a colossal cultural figure of Japan in the seventies. He was mentioned in connection with the Nobel Prize for Literature several times in the 1960s. He wrote the tetralogy
Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn and The Decay of the Angel in 1969 and 1970. And he killed himself shortly after he completed The Decay of the Angel. Now these books are brilliant. I read them one after another, relishing their delicacy, their emotional power and the mysterious calmness of the ending. Or at least I thought highly of them when I read the four books in 1978, though I haven't read them since to test out the opinions of my 20-year-old self.

But what did On Kawara think of Yukio Mishima? He would certainly have had opinions as Mishima may have been the most important Japanese thinker of post-war times. He graduated top of his class from his High School. He read law at Tokyo University. He wrote dozens of novels. His right-wing views in support of traditional spiritual Japanese values and in opposition to American commercial ones were forcefully expressed, though not in his fiction, which was no doubt full of symbols.

An odd thing is that Mishima's actual surname was Hiraoka, which is of course the same as Hiroko's. I don't think this means that much. There are 45,000 people in Japan with the surname of Hiraoka. But all the same…

How did On Kawara respond to the suicide of Yukio Mishima aka Kimitake Hiraoka? Well, we don't know. Presumably the Japanese papers were full of the atrocious tragedy and all that went along with it (Mishima had a private, unarmed army, and a fellow soldier committed suicide in the same way on the same day). As I've said, there were no Date Paintings made in Japan in November, 1970. The three Date Paintings made in December 1970 are simply sub-titled with the days of the week in which each was painted.

It was nearly a year earlier, December 1969, when On Kawara had begun his 'I AM STILL ALIVE' series with the telegram: "I AM NOT GOING TO COMMIT SUICIDE DON'T WORRY.' Followed a few days later by 'I AM NOT GOING TO COMMIT SUICIDE WORRY.' There is no way he would have sent such telegrams in December 1970. The telegram that he had sent to Hiroko on November 17, just a week before Mishima's death, must have prayed on his mind. And of course it would have prayed on Hiroko's mind. She may well have thought that On Kawara and Yukio Mishima were two of the finest men and boldest artists to emerge out of Japan since the war. She was the partner of the one that was STILL ALIVE. But On had travelled to the very city that Yukio Mishima had killed himself in. How was On feeling? How could she not be worried about him?

A close look at 'I WENT' for December would be revealing. And 'I MET' would show how sociable or anti-social he was being. I expect he spent time with his family, but I'll come back to that. Here is a single 'I GOT UP AT' to be going on with, again sent to Seth Siegelaub in New York .

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

And here are a few more, these to Vito Acconci, art world friend and New York performance artist. According to Wikipedia, Acconci 'was characterised by "existential unease," exhibitionism, discomfort, transgression and provocation, as well as wit and audacity. His work often involved crossing boundaries such as public–private, consensual–nonconsensual, and real world–art world.' In Following Piece (1969), Acconci selected random passers-by on New York City streets and followed them for as long as he was able. One can sense that he and On Kawara would have had a lot in common.

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

Just because On Kawara was in Japan, didn't mean he kept more regular hours. Twice he 'got up' after 1pm and once after 6pm. He got up at 6.40pm on his birthday! What was that all about? I still don't get it. That's becoming something I feel I need an answer to. Which of these can be affirmed by someone in the know:

1) On Kawara sometimes got up late because he was ill or depressed.

2) On Kawara sometimes got up late because he was in the habit of playing competitive board games at night and into the early hours of the morning.

3) On Kawara sometimes got up late because he defined 'getting up' in an idiosyncratic way.

If you, dear reader, have any answers, please let me know.

What about Date Paintings? Well, there weren't any made in Japan, not until December 26.

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

The presence of the newspaper in the cardboard box underlines something that's odd about this. The printed writing is in Japanese, naturally, and On Kawara knew Japanese (his first language) just as he knew Spanish. So why didn't he make the date using numbers and Japanese characters? One can see at the top mid-right of the paper the numbers 12 and 26, so that's where the date is printed in Japanese: 12261970

Perhaps On Kawara felt that this was too obscure to mean anything to the Western art world, his primary audience.

Also odd is his use of Esperanto to give the subtitles for 26 Dec., 30 Dec., and 31 Dec.. That's simply the days of the week: "Sabato", "Merkreda" and "Jaudo". He did just two more Date paintings in Japan, in January 1971, and these are sub-titled "2 JAN. 1971" and, for Jan. 24, a title in Esperanto, that translates into: "Do not forget that Esperanto is not only a simple language that each of us uses only for our own needs, but that it is a serious social problem —L.L. Zamenhof."

So On Kawara ignored the Japanese newspapers when coming up with subtitles for his Date paintings made in Japan. What does that say about his state of mind? He was not exactly embracing his heritage. And was this not
a missed opportunity? Surely, he would have been curious as to how the Japanese press was reporting what was happening in respect of Viet Nam, the Cold War, and the Middle East. And how did the Japanese papers talk about the British? Were they obsessed with the royal family, or the Beatles, or with skirts going up-up-up? And what was Tokyo's take on New York, California, the Apollo mission and other aspects of thrusting Americanness? A country's national press reveals a lot about a nation's psyche. That's partly what On Kawara's subtitles had revealed in New York, Mexico and in various South American and Canadian cities.

Of course if he had wanted to emphasise that he was done with Japanese culture, he would not have used an extract from the Japanese paper to line his Date painting boxes.

I wonder if Mishima's suicide could have been part of the reason that On Kawara decided to distance himself from the Japanese alphabet. Mishima was a master of the Japanese language. But what good had that done him?

I suggest it was difficult time for On Kawara, as his conscience and his practice wrestled for control.

Below is 'I MET' from January 2, 1971, made available in SILENCE, perhaps with On Kawara's specific clearance. Near the top are the names of people in his immediate family, Kawahara being the traditional rendering of Kawara's surname. That's Fumiko, Jun, Ei and Ayumi Kawahara. What lovely names. Do these include the names of On's father and mother?

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

Were On Kawara's parents proud of their clever, resolute, independent son who had gone away but had now come back to them? I would say so. What makes me suggest as much? Well, why wouldn't they be proud of such an exceptional person? Picture On Kawara walking from the family house (if it was indeed the family house he was staying at) to the local railway station. A decent - indeed brilliant - man, with the weight of the world on his shoulders but with a moral indignation inside him to help him cope. That's what makes me think there would have been family pride. Oh, and On had not killed himself. He had come back to them at the same time as that other special one had departed this world.

Also there is this. At the top of the list of names on 'I MET' for Jan 2 are Reiko and Yukio Ishibashi, A photo of the interior of their home in Tokyo appears in Candida Hofer's aforementioned book.

Candida Hofer. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

I wonder if this painting, made in New York in 1968, was given to Reiko and Yukio Ishibashi at the time it was painted, or during this Tokyo visit, or subsequently. There are no other works of art on the walls. This is not the interior of a collector, as many of the photos in Hofer's book are. The room is dominated by seats for sitting on and glass for seeing through.

After the Ishibashis and the Kawaharas on the list of 'I MET' for January 2, 1971, come Tamako and Kazuo Okazaki. Their home too was visited by Candida Hofer and her camera:

Candida Hofer. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

What an aesthetically pleasing room, with its generous glass, ample seating and its impressive use of wood. And there hangs 24 JAN.1971. A painting that I presume never made it back to New York. I wonder how many of the five Date Paintings made in Tokyo ever did leave the country.

SILENCE catalogue contains a reproduction of 'I WENT' for January 2, 1971. Of course it does. For doesn't On Kawara want us to build up a picture of his life?

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

This shows that the artist followed much the same route as on November 22 and November 27, only by road rather than rail. Perhaps his family travelled in the family car to meet with some of the other people on the day's 'I MET' list.

The red line in the map below follows the rail line that On Kawara travelled along in those earlier days of November, the blue approximately marks his progress on January 2, 1971. The day's journey was about six miles in total.


Interestingly, he stopped short of the wooded park which contains a shrine. It is common practice to visit shrines in Japan from January 1 to 3. And though he didn't visit it that day, I expect he did another day. Anyway, that's my excuse for including the next image.


I say in passing that if I had access to a few more of the 'I MET' lists from November 15 to January 25, and a few more of the 'I WENT' maps for the same period, I would be able to build up a more accurate picture of On Kawara's life at this juncture. But I have three 'I WENT' maps and one 'I MET' list, and I must be content with that. Indeed, I count my blessings.

It is possible that On Kawara and the people he was with on January 2 enjoyed a meal together at one of the fine restaurants that the beautiful park has on its perimeter. It's possible that On Kawara kept to himself - kept secret from his family - the perspective that he had now come to the end of five years of Date Painting. That was the time he had allocated to the first phase of the project. He had succeeded in painting hundreds of dates and in keeping the collection together so that the work could be exhibited together, in different ways, in the future. True, he had given a few Date Paintings to friends and family, but that didn't alter the big picture.

As I'm not going to write about 1971 next, I must end this page by referring to the completion of
A Million Years Past, which I imagine happened on On Kawara's return to New York in February, 1971. He did an awful lot of Date Painting in May of 1971, so I expect he was finished compiling Million Years Past by then. The SILENCE catalogue reproduces its final three pages.

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

The photographer of the Guggenheim catalogue of 2015, unlike that of the On Kawara: Consciousness, Meditation, Watcher on the Hills catalogue of 2002, took the pages out of their transparent sleeves before photographing them.

Below is the penultimate page, which would have been created from the ante-penultimate page, with a column of figures covering the first digit in each number, and
a column consisting entirely of the number 1 in front of the pre-printed numbers.

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

I should point out that the BC dates have changed into AD dates for these last three pages. The letters refer, of course, to the birth and death of Jesus Christ. Christianity is not part of the Japanese tradition. The imperial year system (kōki) of numbering was used from 1872 to the Second World War. Imperial year 1 (Kōki 1) was the year when the legendary Emperor Jimmu founded Japan – 660 BC according to the Gregorian Calendar. Usage of kōki dating can be a nationalist signal, pointing out that the history of Japan's imperial family is longer than that of Christianity, the basis of the Anno Domini (AD) system. After the Second World War, the United States occupied Japan, and stopped the use of kōki by officials.

In other words, the last million years don't have to have Jesus Christ as a constant reference point. On Kawara has chosen for that to be the case. Or he has gone along with the ways of his adopted culture.

Finally, the last page. Created by adding a column of '1' to each column of numbers on the third-last page.

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

I've circled a few numbers on the final page of Million Years Past, just to try and put things in perspective.

1969: Year of the first (though still at that stage provisionally worded) 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams.

1968: Year of the inception of the 'I GOT UP', 'I WENT' and 'I MET' series of daily observations.

1966: Year of the first Date Painting.

I've then circled the year of On Kawara's birth, and the year of my own birth.

I've then circled - not knowing the years in which On Kawara's parents were born - the year of birth of my own parents.

And we are still in the most recent, the very latest, hundred-year block. A generation is born every twenty-five years, on average, whether of Kawaras or McLarens. That's four generations in a century. That's 20 generations for each 500-year page. That's 40,000 generations who have lived and died in the course of the last million years as represented by the 2000 full pages of
Million Years Past. Our forgotten ancestors.

No wonder On Kawara recorded his getting up time every day, where he went, and who he met.

No wonder he regularly sent out 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams.

No wonder he spent his days painting "TODAY".

He was being urged on by 40,000 generations of forgotten ancestors to seize the hour, the day, the year. "Take care of time, lest time takes care of thee," is something my unforgotten father used to say to me. No, that's not quite right. What he actually said was: "Tak' tent o' time, ere time be tint." Isn't that right, Dad? Silence.

The miracle of actually getting up and being alive. Day after day. I wonder if On Kawara timed the creation of
Million Years Past to co-ordinate with the end of his first five years of Date Painting. I wouldn't be surprised.

Million Years Past. Five Years Past. And, let's be clear: 'STILL ALIVE'.

The mind boggles as the instant clings to the infinite.

At this moment I have everything.

("Nothing looms large," insists Yukio Mishima.)

NOTE: 24 NOV. 24, 2021

It was while writing this year that the On Kawara: Horizontality/Verticality came through my letter box. It contains five postcards and I WENT maps in August and early September covering On and Hiroko's trip through Canada. But I had already written about this time and I did not go back and revise it as the Japan period was so absorbing. Perhaps I will go back to this episode later, but I wouldn't bet on it.