< Artists
On Kawara

In the wunderkammer, part of On Kawara's exceptional work (27,881 days to 24 April 2009, Japan) is presented. The series I Went consists of twelve voluminous books that record the artist's daily movements from 1 June 1968 to 17 September 1979. With the exception of the years in which the work began and ended (in this case 1968 and 1979), each volume contains a complete year. Throughout these twelve years, On Kawara made an exhaustive census of all his daily peregrinations, regardless of his place of residence; we thus find throughout the pages maps of numerous cities such as New York, Tokyo, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Mexico City or Brussels (in 1977). The date of each trip is stamped on the map at the back of each page.

Kawara used black and white photocopies of the maps of the cities he visited in order to produce this colossal work. All his movements are shown in red pencil. The days he stayed at home are just marked with a red dot at the place of his residence. On days when he was away from home, the red line starts at his home and follows his path to his home. The systematism of the approach is obviously unusual.

Supported by the same radicalism, let us also mention his works entitled I met, in which he inventoried by name all the people he had met over the course of twelve years, or I got up, in which he noted the time he got up each morning. This work, essential in the history of conceptual art, ended when his notebooks were stolen in 1979.

In I Went, each volume contains a non-constant number of pages, depending on the frequency of the artist's travels. The years in which he travelled extensively are very voluminous compared to other years. The total number of pages is 4,740. The publication of I Went allows the public to understand the predominant temporal notion in Kawara's work. Flipping through the twelve volumes, readers can easily visualise the concordances between space and time.

As picture books, these works have a plastic dimension that can be found in the old atlases. They can also be perceived as "diaries of a man's travels or strolls" and are therefore reminiscent of the walks of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire published in 1782). Rousseau's concept of the walk implied a conversation between the walker and his own soul. Underneath the radicalness of Kawara's gesture, can we not detect a subtle poetry of the everyday? Through these movements, questions and potential narratives are set up. The activity of a man deciphered in this way inevitably leads to echoes and resonances in those who accept to be transported.