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>> Portrait of Hanne Darboven
>> Interview: Tim Eitel
>> Dieter Roth & Dorothy Iannone
>> Uta Barth

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She discovered something important while observing these regularities, a way to lend order to the world. Upon returning from her first visit to New York, she noted: "I’ve created something by messing something up. Destruction becomes construction. (…) My systems are numerical concepts that work as progressions or reductions, like musical themes with variations." She expressed these systems in numerical phrases and signs and saw that her numerical concept could be expanded ad infinitum. She countered the chaos of the possible, the upset of the past with the smooth order of her numerical notation, which to this day has remained a strictly regimented daily routine for her.


Hanne Darboven, 21 x 21, 1968, Deutsche Bank Collection


For the work New York Room (1967), she exhibited a selection of her first constructions and number pages together with the table on which the drawings were made. Since then, her serial concept has thrived on an internal, cogent logic that creates a precise number of variations arising in an objective manner the moment the respective parameters are established.

"She had a small group of drawings with her which she showed me. I was struck by the originality and depth of the work (...). The scope and elegance of this work and thinking is something one never forgets," as Sol LeWitt recalled his very first encounter with the young artist two years ago. Her extremely reduced works, which excluded all metaphor, corresponded perfectly to Sol LeWitt’s ideas. The influential American artist and long-time friend of Darboven’s, whose theoretical work Paragraphs on Conceptual Art founded the new movement in 1967, had contributed a completely new discourse to the art world, which up until that point had been exclusively focused on the individual work of art. His emphasis on process formulated the essential difference to the similarly constructive approaches of his Minimalist colleagues Donald Judd or Carl Andre, who were more result-oriented. LeWitt postulated a clear task, an experimental, quasi-scientific investigation whose methodical approach, when executed precisely, could bring about a result that was as surprising to the artist as it was to the viewer.



Sol LeWitt, Lines in 4 directions (superimposed Yellow), 1971,
Deutsche Bank Collection, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2006

His emphasis on process formulated the essential difference to the similarly constructive approaches of his Minimalist colleagues Donald Judd or Carl Andre, who were more result-oriented. LeWitt postulated a clear task, an experimental, quasi-scientific investigation whose methodical approach, when executed precisely, could bring about a result that was as surprising to the artist as it was to the viewer.


Donald Judd, Untitled, 1961-1978,
Deutsche Bank Collection, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2006

"Art is a mixture of concept and discipline," Hanne Darboven has stated soberly. In 1968, she discovered the date as a universal element and made it the theme of her calendar drawings. At the same time, she created the first sketches for the Gregorian Calendar in New York, which she made available to the Deutsche Guggenheim for an edition. She found her main subject in the endless variations on writing and calculating time, which she continues to work on to this day with obsessive intensity and scrupulous accuracy. In her artistic system, the date can be written out or replaced by numerals: hence, the 8th of February 1996 can be written as 8/2/96 but also as the equation 8 + 2 + 9 + 6 = 25, or as a conglomerate of boxes, or, finally, in her wordless handwriting comprised entirely of waves of repeating u’s. The artist usually adds historical themes to these "daily computations," systematic dissolutions or densifications of days, weeks, months, years, decades, and centuries each of which embodies an analysis of the concept of passing time.

Hanne Darboven, Konstruktionszeichnung, 1966, Deutsche Bank Collection


As a chronicler of time, her numerical systems combine the calendar’s subdivisions with the temporal sequence of history. Like a cartographer who sets out to measure the ocean and then proceeds to scoop the water out cup by cup, the artist approaches the phenomenon humbly, albeit systematically. She fills what seem like endless series of pages with her own sense of time’s essence. When framed, the pages cover the walls of entire rooms in an allover, suddenly giving concrete expression to something that otherwise merely passes on and is lost.

Her colleague On Kawara also counts the days, but they are his days, which he has been making Date Paintings of since 1966. Each painting was made on the exact day whose date it bears. Together, this ongoing work group is called Todays , of which the artist has painted 2,000 to date. The manner in which the date is written refers to the location in which the artist happened to be when he made the painting – the month is written in the language of the country. In addition, the artist counts out the days of his life and send his friends postcards at irregular intervals that say "I am still alive," which demonstrates what On Karawa is really interested in, namely life and death, or to be more precise: his life. His art represents nothing more than the fact that On Karawa has lived, a modest factual statement, even if we share time and life with him in the here and now.



Hanne Darboven in her studiohouse, 2005
Photo: © Michael Danner

Hanne Darboven works against loss by reconstructing time through the enduring act of writing combined with the incorporation of important personalities and everyday or historically exceptional events. For the latter, the artist usually consults her 1973 edition of the Brockhaus Encyclopedia or excerpts from the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel. Beyond that, she often likes to quote generously from passages of selected works of literature, philosophy, and history, such as Goethe, Bismarck , Sartre, Fassbinder, or Schwitters, and augments them with collaged images and snapshots, increasingly also with sculptures, handcrafted objects, and knickknacks. In this manner, each element in placed in a concrete cultural historical context; when confronted with the sheer volume of the written time piece spanning the walls of the exhibition space like a kind of skin, however, they take on an almost ridiculous quality. For what is the moment, really – even in all its importance – in comparison to an entire epoch?


Hanne Darboven, Untitled (an Kaspar König, 7.2.1994 heute), 1994,
Deutsche Bank Collection


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