Trevor Paglen borrows from On Kawara for his midterm poster
Artist, activist and Nam June Paik award winner takes a conceptual art classic and reworks it for the elections
There’s one sure way to know that Trevor Paglen’s US midterm elections poster isn’t a direct copy of an On Kawara work. The date, 4 November 2018, is currently in the future, not the past.
As our On Kawara monograph explains, the Japanese-born, NY-based conceptual artist, who died back in 2014 at the age of 81, always painted the date pictures in his Today series on the day depicted, finishing within that allotted 24-hour period. These bold, time-stamp-like images, which Kawara made from 1966 until the final years of his life, are open-ended works, offering the viewer his or her own, personal space for contemplation.
“The originality of each work, its small difference from the others, becomes a possibility for a confrontation with the daily events of the world,” explains the writer and curator René Denizot in our book. “Since its meaning is not predetermined, the real work of the piece lies ahead, in the encounter with the viewer, when it is exposed to the world.”
This isn't the first time Paglen has paid tribute to Kawara either. Back in 2014, he posted a Today pastiche on Twitter, depicting Kawara's death date, July 10, 2014, with the caption, "R.I.P. On Kawara, whose art continues to awe and inspire."
Of course, Paglen’s new date picture – though again a tribute to Kawara – is a little more focussed. Produced for the public arts organisation, For Freedoms, Paglen’s work forms part of The 50 State Initiatve, the largest creative collaboration in US history, which aims to “encourage broad participation and inspire conversation around the midterm elections,” according to the organisation.
Perhaps in tribute to On Kawara, or out of respect for the American electorate, he’s left the date more or less unadorned. The midterm elections will take place on 6 November 2018, but the outcome, like interpretations of Kawara’s works, has yet to be formed.
In the past Paglen has photographed secret military installations, delved into the biases within digital surveillance systems, and fitted an anonymous Wi-Fi network into a public gallery. Later this month he will receive the 2018 Nam June Paik Art Center Prize, which recognises one outstanding, groundbreaking artist who amalgamates art and technology.
For more on On Kawara's Today series go here; to find out more about award winning Trevor Paglen's important, timely work, order a copy of his book here.