My Brief Career in Conceptual Art
A few weeks ago, we received an invitation from the David Zwirner gallery to view their latest show, “One Million Years,” by Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara. It was similar to any other gallery invite, except for one anomaly: interested parties were invited to inquire about “participating” in the project.
A week later, I found myself sitting next to a stranger in a soundproof box in the middle of the Chelsea gallery, doing my part for art. (That’s me in the photo below.)
“One Million Years” is a performance piece that calls for volunteers to read aloud the years one million years into the past and one million years into the future. A female volunteer reads the even numbers and a male reads the odd ones. Portions of the project have been recorded several times before at Dia and David Zwirner, and performed at venues around the world. (The last recordings were sold to the tune of $1,000 per CD box set.)
My reading partner (a former Dia intern) and I sat side-by-side in the booth, where we read out of giant binders listing the dates. I picked up where the last volunteers had left off, “36,656 AD.” My partner answered me with “36,657 AD,” and so on and so forth. We felt a bit like fish in a fishbowl, with gallery hoppers curiously peering into our booth.
Not all went smoothly: I was fighting a bad cold, and at one point I broke out in a coughing fit. The years were printed in brutally small type and my partner misread a number. We tripped up a few more times along the way until we hit our final date, 38,657 AD. We were fairly distraught about our performance until the sound technician assured us that we were much better than a previous team, who had flubbed numbers left and right. (Then again, maybe he says that to all the readers.)
I must admit, I was mostly relieved when the two straight hours of reading were over. But I did come away with a faint Zen-like sensation and the sense that I had earned — well, among a certain crowd at least — some bragging rights. Our recording will make up one CD of the box sets that David Zwirner plans to sell of the recordings. (The show is up through February 14.)
Alas, participants do not receive royalties.
Installation view of On Kawara’s One Million Years at David Zwirner,
Photography by Cathy Carver, courtesy David Zwirner gallery