Venice diary: Back to the Future with On Kawara’s One Million Years

The Buck stopped here

The Buck stopped here is a weekly blog by our contemporary art correspondent Louisa Buck covering the hottest events and must-see exhibitions in London and beyond

Weary art lovers seeking some productive downtime away from the frenzy of Venice Biennale opening week have been volunteering to take part in On Kawara’s One Million Years (Reading). This installation involves reading from two sets of eponymous volumes produced by the late artist that list, in neatly typed columns, dates one million years into future and one million years into the past. The meditation on the nature of time is taking place in the appropriately contemplative setting of the Oratorio di San Ludovico, an ancient religious building in Dorsoduro. Here, backed by an altar and observed by visitors sitting on pews, a seated male and female reader alternately read out the dates from what was Kawara’s last book, one going forwards in time, the other going backwards.

Kicking off the proceedings on Wednesday 10 May were Jonathan Watkins, the Ikon Gallery director, and Angela Choon, a senior partner at David Zwirner Gallery, both of whom knew the late artist personally. Other participants have included the artist Ian Davenport, and his assistant Hannah Tilson, who found the experience a welcome respite from installing his work in the Giardini. The event is being jointly organised by Nuova Icona and Ikon Gallery and continues until 30 July. It forms part of Ikon Icona, a Venice based collaboration dedicated to developing an artistic programme around the Oratorio di San Ludovico. Volunteers can book either a 60- or 120-minute session by emailing The perfect break from pounding the pavilions.