Hanne Darboven

Galerie Paul Maenz

Hanne Darboven’s works are basically impelled by the thought of naming time. Time—say, the passing of the present, which is a different experience for each individual consciousness—is usually captured by Darboven in an artistically arbitrary system that aims at objectivity. In its complexity, this system transforms abstract time into a visual, graphic sign that is both tangible and comprehensible. For instance, time is written out by hand and linked to combinations of numbers. The artist often employs a code with a rigid foundation that is composed partly of mathematics and partly of free association. Within this context, Darboven’s systematizing, encoding, and graphic translating—or rather rewriting—objectivize the subjective experience of the torrent of time, seeking a compromise between Chronos (time as a universal personification) and Keiros (the individual, subjectively experienced present moment). Darboven rewrites time into a cool rational construction.

The orientation in time likewise determines the ambitious piece, Existenz (Existence, 1989). It consists of 2,261 individually framed letter-size sheets of paper, which can be recognized, perused, and studied as complete photographic reproductions of Darboven’s datebook pages. Photographed in a one-to-one ratio, page by page, from the cover to the last page, they represent the years 1966 to 1988. The gigantic presentation of these pages in the rooms of the gallery is overwhelming. Long spaces of time have, apparently, been turned into a single space-time.

Within the artist’s overall work, Existenz initially looks autobiographical. The unmanipulated rendering of the datebook pages,the dimensions of maps and distance tables as normally included in typical calendars, the recorded, sometimes intimate events of specific days, the private methods for subdividing time, for maintaining personal times, deadlines, and appointments—all these things define time as the primary and essential structure of human life. Viewed in this way, Existenz becomes Darboven’s self-portrait.

The presentation of the work, however, greatly overshadows the subjective connections found on the datebook pages. Thus, the spatial arrangement transforms the usual relationship of chronological sequence into a variable structure of adjacency—basically, the work becomes a chronological “allover.” Calendar dates of private events reorganize time as a universal finding, as something that is or could be written similarly or approximately about anyone in any datebook. Furthermore, by helping to achieve a universal orientation in time, the calendar, per se, is supremely neutral. It embodies a given, prefabricated, readymade system of time, which is taken up by Darboven. In this way, Existenz is entirely consistent with the artist’s uncompromising conception, which is evident in other works of hers, and to which she has been devoting herself since the mid ’70s: that is, human feebleness and powerlessness in regard to the passing of time.

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.