Understanding Time Through the Art Magic of Om Kawara

When looking Om Kawara art I realized he is a master of contemporary art about time.

Artists represent time to recount events about history and memory.  The Artist On Kawara painted a single date on his canvases to represent the day which the painting was created. Oct_31,_1973_(Today_Series,_-Tuesday-)_On_Kawara In Andy Warhol’s continuous real time video, Empire, he captured a continuous 24 hour cycle of the Empire state building.  Artistic media plays a crucial role in building the collective memory and there are many methods available to the artist to portray time.  In the past artists explored the structure of time in a number of ways.  For one in ancient relief paintings a series of pictures could be placed next to each other to show a progression of events.  These were precursors to the modern day comic book which shows a sequence of images to suggest temporality.

Techniques used by contemporary art about time

   The tryptic (a three paneled image) serves the artist in portraying time as well.  In Ai wei wei’s “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” the artist is seen holding a pot and in the subsequent images the pot falls from his hands suggesting a movement through time even though we are looking at a stationary image.  


Christian Marclays’ “The Clock” captures a 24 hour cycle as the clips interchange from one film sequence to another.  The video panels depict time as depicted by clocks in the movie as they are adapted to coincide with real time. What results is a cavalcade and of imagery and a blending of the experience of the viewer with that of the cinematic.

    Some artists revisit history using anachronistic imagery in the present to revisit or recover the past.  In this way they are able to recount myriads of forgotten events and people who have been left out of the history books.  This also gives an artist the chance to reframe history in order to deconstruct popular understandings through fictionalization.  A lot of these juxtaposing incongruous images that dovetail rapidly from historical epoch to historical epoch can be attributed to the rise of increased interest in post modern art during the 1980’s.  By exploring history in art the past once again becomes present.  

History can be revisited usually in the form of:

Memorials– Pay tribute to the dead.


Monuments– Pays tribute to the past.

Monuments and Memorials create a sense of historicity in a present population giving the impression of time and temporality to a people and providing a sense national identity also legitimizing a government or social structure to continue into the future. Through this reflection on history one has a chance to reassess the past.

   All in all we suffer from an amnesiac society.  We are in a post-modern culture with very little patience for past or very well any sort of hegemonic declaration of cultural history.  Also with the advent of the internet massive amounts of historical information is being stored with accessibility just being a click away.  Though this seemingly would seem to cause a resurgence in historical interest according to the historian, Andreas Huyssen, we are experiencing a “synchronicity of the archive,” where every bit of coded information about past, present and future inherently dissolves our time and confuses memory resulting in altogether apathy towards past events.  

Written by Rolo

The Grand Hierophant

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