|First Today series painting, On Kawara, 1966 (source)
||Fall Winter 2012, Comme des Garçons (source)
Since Jan. 4, 1966, On Kawara has created paintings of various sizes, colors and fonts, showcasing the date of their creation. These paintings are refreshingly devoid of content, serving as, if anything, a ritual reaffirmation of the progression of time or a fixation on modern sans serif typefaces. They account for nothing except themselves.
The date paintings emerged at an important point where artistic practice became philosophical enactment, with artists concentrating on essential qualities or singular thoughts. Kawara’s pieces echo a statement from an early John Baldessari text painting, started the same year as the first dated canvas: ‘Everything has been purged from this painting but art, no ideas have entered this work’. To me, this is the inspiring core of conceptual art—that, set off from its typical context and focused by a discerning eye, anything can become art.
With On Kawara’s work, there exists a second, personal enigma. Whereas Baldessari’s work arises from the studio process and the artist’s image archive, Kawara is constantly traveling. Each painting in the Today series features the standard date format of the artist’s current location, injecting format diversity into the arrangement (if his current city uses a non-Roman script, Esperanto is used as the default). Another series, I GOT UP, consists of postcards noting the time at which he got up. Both series document Kawara’s peripatetics, though the relationship between his wandering and his art is unclear—which came first and why? Taken together, the postcards and the date paintings register the compression of creative procedure into a disciplined documentation of existence, but their deeper meaning is not easily ascertained as Kawara does not make statements about his work or conduct interviews. How do these admirably tidy works relate to the messy reality of living? After finishing a canvas or dropping a postcard in the mail, what does On Kawara do with the rest of his day?
‘I do not feel happy when a collection is understood too well. For me, White Drama was too easily understood, the concept too clear. I feel better about fall 2012, because it wasn’t too clear, and some people assumed things it had nothing to do with, like the Internet age.’
—Rei Kawakubo on Comme des Garçons
If the postmodern age is about recognizing that meaning is subjective, then Rei Kawakubo offers a fitting approach for today’s designer. Given the recent past’s requirement that every formal maneuver be justified to illicit deep reading, perhaps nowadays architects can successfully produce work that fulfills certain parameters of use, while playing freely and privately with aesthetic references? In an era that places so much emphasis on communication, embracing the undefined could provide opportunities to liberate architecture’s creative agenda.
Erandi de Silva
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