Monday, 13 January 2014


Hanne Darboven, (1968) Construction Drawing, [Ink on graph paper] 43.2 x 60.7 cm, MoMA, New York © 2013 Estate of Hanne Darboven / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

Hanne Darboven was a German Conceptual artist whose daily writings recorded existence whilst enquiring about the nature of time itself. The handwritten script is often framed and repeated with systematic methodical mathematical calculations; the repetition almost becomes a habitual spatial process filling voids of space in a mechanistic methodology of repetition.

After a brief two year stint in New York (1966-8) Darboven returned to Germany, where in the late 60s Darboven began to interrogate and explore dates in the divisions of calendars. Although Darboven only spent two years in New York she is often credited with impacting the New York art scene in the development of Conceptual Art.

Metaphorically speaking the temporality of the work isn’t a representation or even a reproduction of reality, it is reality, a reality of the past continuing. Darboven’s apparently omnipotent calculations and algorithms act to command time with mathematical prose that verges into the sublime. The physical information and data bank presented often as installations are networks of the infinity of passing time. 

Ein Jahrhundert at WestfSlischer Kunst Verein, Munster, Germany, 1971. 
Photo: Ein Jahrhundert at WestfSlischer Kunst Verein, Munster, Germany, 1971.

Darboven’s Ein Jahrhundert (A Century) (1971–75), visualizes a hundred-year time span through numbers. Darboven represents each day and year by starting with the number 00 and ending in 99. Consisting of 365 binders, including all the days of the century 1/1/1900 – 31/12/1999 (as processed through Darboven's Konstruktion system). “Each month consists of 28 to 31 books, each book consisting of 100 pages except for February 29th which consists of 25 pages. The first volume contains all the January 1sts of the century, the second, all the January 2nds, etc., until the 365th, which contains all the December 31sts. Indices to the work comprise additional binders.”[1]

If it is possible for numbers to hold a universal sentimentality then Darboven’s rows and grids interrupted by the narrow framed boundaries  that enclose a framed palette of black and red ink often on white paper do so in a cryptic fashion. The configuration of the frames creates structural and temporal relationships which shape the data in a spatial arrangement which echo with intimidating paradoxes. Numbers appear to exist as mathematical interruptions in time and space in an administrative idiosyncratic aesthetic in a tangible infinite cycle.

 “I only use numbers because it is a way of writing without describing.... I choose numbers because they are so steady, limited, artificial. The only thing that has ever been created is the number. A number of something (two chairs or whatever) is something else. It's not pure number, and has other meanings. 

Hanne Darboven quoted in L. Lippard, "Hanne Darboven: Deep in Numbers," Artforum XII/2 (October 1973): 35-36.

Darboven’s practice of recording existence investigates the essence of time, using numbers as a method of; “writing without describing” (Darboven quoted in Lippard 1973: 35–36). Although numerical, Darboven’s work is far from mathematical; numbers are Darboven’s language, her paint with which to illustrate time, it’s passing and ultimately; our passing. 

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