Live Reading: On Kawara, “One Million Years”
ONE MILLION YEARS: Past
With the work One Million Years, Kawara opposes human awareness of the day, which conditions most of his other work, to an almost unimaginable measure of past and future time.
One Million Years began as a group of twenty-four works, twelve spanning past millennia and twelve spanning the future. Respectively titled One Million Years: Past and One Million Years: Future, each work comprises ten binders containing, in total, two thousand pages of text. Years are allocated five hundred per page, in ten columns and fifty rows. To create One Million Years, Kawara devised a cut-and-paste method in which columns of single digits could be glued to grids of numbers that had already been typed. 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. Final sheets were photocopied to conceal glued areas, then fit in transparent plastic sleeves and bound in individually boxed volumes. The years represented vary from work to work. The Past works were created in 1970 and 1971, and their lists end with the year prior to which they were assembled; the Future works, produced between 1980 and 1998, begin with the year after they were made. The ten years from 1971 to 1980 are not represented in either body of work.
In 1993 Kawara expanded One Million Years to encompass live and recorded readings, which allows the project to be both preserved and perpetuated through public recitation. Since then, One Million Years has been the subject of numerous other live readings and recordings around the world. All readings follow the same format, developed by the artist: readers appear in pairs, one male-identifying reader, who reads odd-number dates, and one female-identifying reader, who reads the even numbers (gender non-conforming readers may choose which set of dates they wish to read). Dates are read from both One Million Years: Past and One Million Years: Future and are always recited in English. Each new session begins where the previous one ended—counting slowly from the past to the present, or from the present into the future—to continue until the contents of all ten volumes of both works have been read aloud.