Activating Performance: "One Million Years" and "Million Dollar Walk"
March 24, 2015

During the flurry of the recent Armory Show weekend in New York, we had the amazing opportunity to participate in not one, but two, participatory artworks in a day.

The first was Jonathan Schipper's Million Dollar Walk (2015) at the booth of Pierogi Gallery.  Accompanied by the artist himself, my fellow participant was able to take a walk with a suitcase full of one million U.S. dollars handcuffed to his wrist.  Of course, there was a ritual involved before we were able to do so.  My fellow participant was first asked to sign a document acknowledging his participation, and confirming that he would not attempt to make an escape with the money; dare I say it, the act of signing a legal waiver was part of the artwork!  After he formalized his consent by inking his fingerprint on the document, he got handcuffed to the suitcase.  Wincing at the handcuffs, and remarking how heavy the suitcase was, we gingerly made our way through the fairgrounds.  Perhaps a comment on the fair being a physical space for monetary exchange -- where the value of the money in the suitcase can easily exchange hands for objects of desire -- my fellow participant surprisingly did not seem as fazed about the large amount of cash he was carrying around as I expected him to be.  As we walked around, other fair visitors stopped us, asking whether we actually had a million dollars in the suitcase, and snapped iPhone photos.  Impressions of participating in the work included the materiality that the bulk of money posed, the soreness experienced from being handcuffed for the first time, as well as the bold choices that Schipper and his gallerists made in exhibiting a non-tangible performance piece at an art fair.

Notice the glint of the handcuffs

No rest for the weary, as we then zipped uptown to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum that is currently featuring a solo exhibition of work by Japanese artist, On Kawara.  Kawara's artistic practice evidences an extraordinary commitment to marking time and the act of declaring one's existence: who he met each day; where he went; what time he woke up; and so on.  

We were able to participate as voluntary readers in Kawara's artwork, One Million Years, which is comprised of binders full of printed dates, some looking forward into the future, and others looking back to the past.  One Million Years has been activated in a variety of venues, and is a continuous performance; one female reader and one male reader take turns reading the years off the page, switching between each other for 60 minutes.  Then a new reader pair is substituted, and continues from where the last pair ended.  The table for the performance is minimally set with the binders, microphones, a clock, and pencils and rulers to help the readers with their tasks.  As I first sat at the table, I was exceptionally nervous about making a mistake in reading the numbers out aloud.  I started to read each number, trying to focus intently on the page of numerical print, and heard my voice wavering as it reverberated from the microphone into the rotunda of the museum.  Slowly, however, over the course of the hour, where I read the odd numbers from 795,859 B.C. to 795,369 B.C., I was able to focus less on the stress of reading, but became mindful of the sounds of our alternating voices and the ambient din of the museum visitors.  In a very small, contained and directed way, we were doing what Kawara did in creating his art: recording and experiencing the passage of time.


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