On Kawara’s One Million Years (Reading) is an installation taking place at the Venice Biennale 2017 between 9 May and 30 July. It involves volunteers gathered from Italy and beyond reading from One Million Years, two sets of volumes produced by the artist that list dates one million years into the future and one million years into the past. Their dedications are “For all those who have lived and died" (Past) and "For the last one” (Future).
Through their actions the readers are engaged in a meditation on the nature of time. This theme is central to Kawara’s work overall, including Date Paintings of the o of the Today series (1966 – 2013), telegrams with their simple message “I am still alive” (1970 - 2000) and daily postcards announcing when he got up after waking (I Got Up, 1968- 1979).
The readings are spoken in English alternating between a male and female narrator, each date followed by the next. The readers are drawn from local residents, visitors to the Biennale and other tourists who have the opportunity to volunteer for sessions of either 60 or 120 minutes. Currently volunteers are being sought and bookings can be made through Elisa Genna at: volunteersKawara@gmail.com
The venue for this manifestation of One Million Years (Reading), the Oratorio di San Ludovico, Dorsoduro, could not be more suitable, being an ancient religious building with wonderful acoustics designed for the utterance of human voice. The matter-of-factness of the reading is foiled there by the presence of an altarpiece, consecrated and symbolic of eternal life.
In this vein, Venice itself could not be more fitting as a location for the work. Its fragility and beauty, caught between the sea and sky, is often associated with the transience of human life.
A booklet accompanies the exhibition with an introduction by Ikon Director Jonathan Watkins. Available from Ikon’s online shop www.ikon-gallery.org/shop. Visitors can also download an app, made in collaboration with ARTiMBARC, which features extra content, images, essays and audio about On Kawara’s One Million Years (Reading). This is available via Apple’s App Store and by searching for ‘Biennale Ikon’.