︎ Torey Erin
Artist and film maker
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
translated by Peng Wu
On Sunday May 3 I had a dream I was on a very tall ladder in a large white room with high ceilings, carefully installing On Kawara's “Today series” paintings, hundreds of them, in a grid. A row of rectangular windows were close to the ceiling and the paintings were below the windows. The light had a late morning haze to it. Perfect lines, all of them a deep cadmium reddish color with the stark, white dates. OCT.27.1967. FEB.04.1985. 30.DEC.1951 and so on. I slowly went down the very tall ladder. It was thin and narrow and I focused to keep my balance. When I reached the ground I picked up an On Kawara painting, and brought it up the ladder carefully, to set onto the silver nails in the wall. I leveled the painting, which seemed to be about 8x10 inches. And again, slowly went down the very tall ladder. I slid the ladder over to the right a little, and climbed back up with another date painting to hang on the next set of nails. The painting I had previously leveled suddenly tilted on the wall, the bottom left corner rising up. I went down the ladder, going a little faster than I had before, and shifted it back to the place that it was before. There was no sound in the room. All of the date paintings started to tilt, the grid disrupted, waving. I looked back at all of the labor. There was no sound in the room. They started to fall off the wall, bleeding. It was alarming, all of this precious art and labor, contorting, failing. I woke up. My heart ran races in my chest.
A beautiful panic dream. The last time I saw On Kawara work was in September at mia. One Thing was part of the exhibition “Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965 - 1975”. A tryptic: the left read “ONE THING”, the center, “VIET-NAM”, and the right “1965”, relayed a message of the surrounding circumstances of the war. His painting style changed afterward, the surrounding circumstances left out, and he solely focused on the dates from then on - a solemn reflection of living and breathing another day.
The time before that was in 2015 at his retrospective, Silence at the Guggenheim. I was invited to New York with a friend for an art fair - she went to work all day at the fair and I walked around Manhattan. I went to the park and had my palm read by a fortune teller there; she told me in another life that I had hung myself, and that is why my mother had a difficult labor with me (she did not know, that in fact, my neck was wrapped in my umbilical cord during labor and my heart slowed. Nurses prepared my mother for a c-section. A cool doctor entered the hospital room and told everyone to calm down and wait, they watched as I untangled myself and then came into the world). I wanted to experience the inside of the museum and found myself at what seemed like a funeral procession. Visitors dressed in black, silently winding up the museum structure from date painting to date painting. I learned that Kawara would paint one date painting per day, in sans serif text meticulously executed with acrylic paint and no use of stencils. A compulsion. Some say it was a result of traumatic stress from living in Japan during and after the war. If he couldn’t finish a day’s painting by midnight, he destroyed it. He housed the finished date paintings in tailor made cardboard boxes, lined with the day's newspaper, usually the New York Times.
The dream wouldn’t leave my mind, the collapse was so vivid. I thought it could be a subconscious confrontation with the current events of the world. The collapse of the grid represented the disruption in nearly every aspect of daily life due to the pandemic. ‘Normal’ was no longer available to us, anxiety was heightened. In May I quarantined for weeks because I thought I had the virus. I had never experienced the level of fatigue before. My muscles felt like stones. I couldn’t stay awake either, and slept nearly 16 hours in one day. This was before available citywide testing, so I did a telehealth check up, logging into my account and submitting my symptoms to ‘Lindsay’. I was in the ‘could be the flu or corona virus’ category, because I did not have respiratory symptoms. With four days of rest my strength came back. Months later, when antibodies tests were available, I tested in person at a clinic one block from my house. A man named Randy took my blood. Randy was broad shouldered with facial hair and large forearms. He wore a face shield, no mask. Randy used his breath, not his voice, to walk me through every step he would take before and after putting the needle inside of my vein. The whisper made me feel taken care of in a way I had never felt at the doctor. I went home and wrote Randy a very positive online review about his breathiness and gentle nature. It was probably unnecessary information for the clinic, but at that point person-to-person interactions were limited and non-intimate. We were all dancing spatially in public now, no brushing past or hello hugs to friends, all gaze - no smile, muffled voices behind paper masks. A whisper felt like deep cherished care.
Maybe the dream is a reflection of my own repetitive days blurring together. When the pandemic reached the US, my mornings began with tangerine tea, scrolling the coronavirus reports and maps, and running three miles around my neighborhood. I consistently ran past a woman with short blonde hair, mid-fifties, briskly walking each day. We waved at each other. She wore a black mask and sunglasses. In the summer she started to wear a baseball cap with a rearview mirror on it so she could see if someone was coming up behind her. This surprised me but I imagined she may have a preexisting condition or lives with a parent. In August she suddenly had a ponytail coming out of the cap with the rearview mirror. This also surprised me and now I even wonder if it is the same woman. Stepping on the same wheat shadows on the concrete, past the archery targets, under the train tracks, and up the hill of sumac. At first I ran to relieve anxiety and move my body a bit before sitting at home working on my computer. Running became something to put on my calendar that I felt I could actually control. My distance increased to six miles, then nine, thirteen. Exhaling felt like the only truth.
The dream could represent the complicated visual obituary of the pandemic: seeing the interactive maps on the screen grow from orange to red day after day as the death toll rises. Bodies. Numbers. Days. I have read that when faced with a massive crisis, humans go through psychic numbness, meaning that as the number of victims in a tragedy increases, our empathy reliably decreases. Our brains can’t fathom the millions of people dead - massive crisis becomes abstract thought. The numbness of numbers. I thought about On Kawara’s paintings in relation to this as a recording of his very existence through numbers and language anonymity. Art historians have written about the paintings as conceptual and stripped of emotion, a sort of mechanomorphic way of being, or, machine quality projected onto the human. (Kawara could have been projecting the ever increasing mechanomorphism we see today in the ways in our ever present merge with technology). But beyond the number is the human being, steadily hand lettering the painting, living for the day. They appeared as a chronological artifact, but were actually a sign of Kawara’s life, the country he was in, the box he handmade, the newspaper he read. They all held a secret memory - something invisible. The virus has an invisibility too - captivating, unseen, unsure. We don’t know if it is here or there or if we even have it when we have it. We enter an abstract frame of mind to comprehend it. I imagine it on the surface of my mail, the door handle, the sunbutter. I used to clean every grocery item with bleach wipes. But if I am truly honest it was more about the performance of cleaning than it really was about eliminating the virus from the item. If I had been certain it was on the jar of sunbutter I would have treated it like toxic waste with tongs and a full suit on. The cleaning was to exit the feedback loop of my mind questioning whether or not the item was a potential infector.
Yet, some people don’t even believe the virus is anywhere at all; so the dream could be about the fragmentation of our reality. Kawara’s paintings represent time itself as consciousness. But somehow they are only partial truths as documents of linear time: each date, painted in a 24 hour time frame. Month, day, year. The archive of the arrow of time, the form of reality that the larger majority of human life agrees upon. The name COVID-19 is a time capsule: many think that there is a before, during, and after COVID-19 in some kind of hopeful linearity. Western culture favors the extractive, destructive, ‘progressive’, linear systems. (It is likely that the COVID-19 the virus came from our complete disregard for natural cycles in the environment). So this linear system is perhaps failing, because it does not recognize that we revolve and radiate, and that our impact always affects and relates to something else in a circular way. Circular time, which is nature's motivation, is not an adopted concept of western culture because it does not appear progressive. I thought of the cyclical while I was filming a cicada on the side of my house emerging from its nymph exoskeleton. It was pulsating, uncurling slowly. A chime of cicadas would sweep loudly as it moved, luring it out. Its wings grew,
inflating with fluid. Cicadas sing and lay eggs in a tree. The eggs hatch and then they fall to the ground and suck onto a root of a tree for its sap nutrients and grow underground for 2-17 years. They need bacteria to make amino acids, so they form a relationship with fungus to survive. They emerge from the earth, shed their exoskeleton, mate, lay eggs, and die. The circle starts all over again - a magical relationship of beings. Perhaps we have found ourselves emerging from the nymph-like stage pulsing toward a new time. And the dream is perhaps about the disruption of our understanding of time. The teleological mistake we have made. In the US we subscribe to the mental concept of linear time which in a way ignores bodies (heartbeat, respiration, circadian rhythms, sleepinging/waking) and ecosystems in favor of a time that is successive: time-is-labor-is-money. I thought of Kawara’s unfinished day paintings. I imagine him trying to outpaint the clock from wherever he was, the restraint of the imaginary line of midnight. The clock moves its hand just before the last few brushstrokes and he bends his neck, pauses. Maybe he even sets a timer. In disappointment, he rips the painting. Or burns it. Or Kawara opens the window and gently throws it into the garbage behind his apartment, it spins down, the partial date blurs. And this garbage is full of these failed date paintings and eggshells and tissue. Or maybe he buried them all, in a tailor made box, complete with a newspaper and the earth and the arthropods use it for sustenance. These details are unknown. What we do know is that for Kawara, time was an emotional and imaginary relationship. Because that is what time seems to be. We give it meaning to try to understand the complexity of the system as a whole. So it is also just an appearance. Just like a painting. Just like a dream.
5月3日，星期日，我做了一个梦，当时我站在一个有着高大天花板的白色大房间里极高的梯子上，小心翼翼地将Kawara的“ Today系列”画作安装在网格中。一排矩形窗户靠近天花板，而画作则位于窗户下方。晨雾笼罩着它。完美的线条，带有深镉红的颜色和鲜明的白色日期： 1967年10月27日。 1985年2月4日。 1951年12月30日，依此类推。我慢慢地走下高高的阶梯。它又窄又窄，我集中精力保持平衡。当我到达地面时，我拿起一幅On Kawara画作，小心地将它抬上梯子，放到墙上的银色钉子上。我调平了这幅画，大约是8x10英寸。再一次，慢慢地走下高高的阶梯。我将梯子向右滑了一点，然后再爬上另一幅日期画，挂在下一组钉子上。我以前调平过的画突然在墙上倾斜，左下角向上翘起。我比以前快的走下梯子，然后又将它移回了以前的位置。房间里突然没有声音。所有的画开始倾斜，网格乱套了，胡乱摇动着。我回头看了所有的工作。房间里寂静无声。他们开始从墙上掉下来，流着血。令人震惊的是，所有这些宝贵的艺术和劳动，都在扭曲，失败了。我醒了。我的心在胸口猛烈跳动。
一个惊恐而美丽的梦。 我上次看到On Kawara的作品是在9月的Mia美术馆。 《一件事》这件作品是《艺术家的回应：1965年至1975年的美国艺术与越战》展览的一部分。 这是一副三联画：左边写着“一件东西”，中间写着“ VIET-NAM”，右边写着“ 1965”，传达了当时战争状态下的社会环境。 自从这件作品以后，他的绘画风格发生了变化，周围的环境被排除在外，他只关注从那时起的一个个日期-庄严的表达了艺术家又呼吸，存活了一天。
这个梦境又像是新冠大流行的视觉布告牌：随着死亡人数的增加，看到屏幕上的互动地图日渐从橙色变成红色。身体。数字。日期。我读到文章说在面对巨大的危机时，人类会陷入心理麻木，这意味着随着悲剧中受害者的人数增加，我们的同理心确实会稳定的减少。我们的大脑无法理解数百万人的死亡-大规模的危机变成了很抽象的观念。对于数字的麻木。我想到On Kawara的绘画与此有关，艺术家通过抽象的数字和文字匿名性的记录了自己在战争中的存在。艺术史学家的评论文章曾将这些画作视为剥离了情感的观念艺术，一种机械变形的存在方式，或者是投射到人类身上的冰冷机械特征。 （Kawara也可能是预测今天的我们与技术融合的现实-不断增加的机械性）。但是画作中数字的冰冷表象背后是艺术家平稳宁静的日复一日的手绘过程。它们看上去像是按年代顺序排列的制品，但实际上是Kawara的生活，他所在的国家，他手工制作的盒子以及他读过的报纸的象征。他们都拥有一个秘密的记忆，这些都是隐秘看不见的。该病毒也具有隐秘性-令人着迷，看不见，不确定。我们不知道它到底在不在这里，或者我们染病的时候也不确定（作者指在本文写作的疫情早期）。我们只好在一个抽象的思维框架里来理解它。我想像它会出现在我邮件的表面，门把手和Sunbutter花生酱瓶子上。我曾经用漂白剂擦拭每件超市买回来的物品。但是，老实讲这个清洁的行为简直是一种行为表演。因为如果花生酱瓶子上真有病毒，我会用钳子和全套的防护服把它当作有毒的东西对待。清洁的行为本身其实是为了停止我脑子里不断循环的对病毒的不确定性和疑虑。