On Kawara is still alive

On Kawara was born in Kariya, Japan on December 24th, 1932. He was raised in an intellectual family environment and after high school he moved to Tokyo. He spent some years there and finally after many trips in Mexico and Europe he moved to New York in 1965 until his death, July 10th 2014. He was influenced by the Buddhist and Shinto philosophy and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that occurred as he was a teenager in Japan. These events, left him deeply unsettled, questioning the moral values of the modern human society. He always avoided his exhibition’s openings and press interviews because he preferred that his public persona is defined only through his work.

He is very well known for his work and the series he preferred to create. The “I went”, “I met”, “I got up” and the “I AM STILL ALIVE” are some of his most known series of mostly postcards from places he visited, maps and telegrams. For the “I went” series, Kawara traced with a red pen on a local map his movements always marking also the date. The “I met” series, is a list of people he met along his many journeys and the “I AM STILL ALIVE” is a series of telegrams he used to send to people of art, friends and family, only to inform them of his existence.

The “I got up” series, one of his most important and interesting work, is a series of 1500 cards created from 1968 until 1979. On those postcards he always marked “I got up” and the time of his arose every morning. He sent two postcards every day to his friends, family and colleagues. Apart from the “ I got up”,  he stamped on top his name and current address and also the name and address of the receiver. Only the language, the format of the date and the postage stamp changed, according to were he was at the time. The “rubber-stamped information” gesture and the repetitive nature of this quote is counter-balanced by the artist’s peripatetic global wanderings- in 1973 only, he posted cards from 28 different cities-. He chose to abandon the artisanal techniques that defined modern art and every aspect of aesthetics. His work was only based on the concept idea over any aesthetic form. He often bough many postcards at once but he always made the postcard on the day it was sent. He sometimes chose to send a postcard to a person only once; other times he sent multiple cards to the same person.  That way he created a play of different combinations. For example, he usually sent multiple views of the same site or building or even sent cards with the same image. The “I got up” is at the same time an impersonal system- by using ready-made postcards and stamped letters- and a personal commentary- the time and place he used to get up every day-.

After observing his work, I believe that there is a very interesting contradictive nature in these series, which consists of the repeated act of doing something every day but always at a different time. This act is close to the writing of diaries( date, time and personal thoughts). In the “I got up” series the personal and autobiographic sense is easily understood. It’s the artist’s travels through different places, for a long period of time and his personal attempt to define himself and his being in different environments, by only writing down the exact time and place of this arose every day. It seems like a documentary of his own life and also a bizarre translation of time.

This series ended with a random event: the theft of the briefcase that contained his stamp kits. The briefcase was returned to him, but he never resumed the series.

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