Kawara aims to make viewers aware of their place in history and to give the passage of time a kind of materiality. His interest in how society uses dates to grasp time's elusiveness can be seen in the twentyvolume, book project One Million Years. Created in 1969, the work condenses the timescale of our entire human history to only a few pages and presents the length of an average human life as nothing more than a few lines. This list of dates is divided between two books of multiple volumes: the first book, Past, is dedicated to all those who have lived and died, and covers the years from 998,031 BC to 1969 AD. The second book, Future, is dedicated to the last one, and begins with the year 1993 AD and ends with the year 1,001,992 AD.
Embracing the theme of the fourth biennial AV Festival, As Slow As Possible, One Million Years will be recited over a 2 month period as the twenty volumes are read aloud at BALTIC
. The work is centred around a desk and two chairs in a windowed booth in the middle of an otherwise almost empty gallery. Within the space participants recruited from the general public - one man and one woman at a time, will take turns to recite progressive dates going one million years into the future or into the past (during gallery hours only).
Kawara's works speak simply and directly about the passage and marking of time. In 1966 he embarked upon his on-going Today Series of Date paintings, of which there are now thousands, each one consisting of the date on which it was made, meticulously painted in white on a plain coloured background. Another series of works, begun in 1969, involved sending postcards and telegrams to friends and acquaintances bearing messages like 'I am still alive'. Kawara has produced numerous artist's books, such as I Met, a day-by-day listing of all the people he has ever met. At the root of all these works is the artist's fundamental and on-going concern with the essence of human existence.