Catalogue entry

Hanne Darboven born 1941

T03410 Card Index: Filing Cabinet, Part 2 1975

Black ink and black offset printing ink on collage of yellow lightweight paper and grey medium weight paper on white cartridge paper mounted on board; 10 framed panels, each 1880 x 2210 (74 x 87), each containing 60 sheets each 294 x 210 (11 5/8 x 8 1/4); dimensions when installed variable; framed index consisting of 13 sheets each 11 5/8 x 16 1/2 (295 x 419); dimensions when installed 940 x 2185 (37 x 86)
Inscribed ‘Hanne Darboven, 1975' centre of index; work consists entirely of inscribed numerals and words
Purchased from Sperone Westwater Fischer, Inc., New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: Purchased from the artist by Sperone Westwater Fischer, Inc., New York 1978
Exh: Hanne Darboven Part 2, Sperone Westwater Fischer Inc., New York, April 1978 (no cat., detail of index repr. in brochure); Explorations in the '70s, Pittsburgh Plan for Art Gallery, Pittsburgh, April-May 1980 (not numbered, as ‘Construction 19 x 42/60 Part 2', listed [p.30], detail repr. pp.22-3)
Lit: Valentin Tatransky, ‘Hanne Darboven', Arts Magazine, vol.52, June 1978, p.35, detail repr.; Madeleine Burnside, ‘Hanne Darboven', Artnews, vol.77, Summer 1978, p.201; Edit DeAk, Artforum, vol.16, Summer 1978, pp.76-7, detail repr. p.77; statement by the artist in John Anthony Thwaites, ‘Eight Artists, Two Generations, Singular Preoccupations', Artnews, vol.77, Oct. 1978, p.71; Thomas Lawson, ‘Hanne Darboven at Castelli and Sperone Westwater, Fischer', Art in America, vol.66, Sept.-Oct. 1978, p.117; Robert Rosenblum ‘Essay' in Explorations in the '70s , exh. cat., Pittsburgh Plan for Art Gallery, Pittsburgh, 1980, p.8

Hanne Darboven finds expression in the exhaustive accretion, organisation and presentation of information. Her works have included long and continuous number sequences, lengthy quotes from literature or from encyclopedias and the organisation and presentation of miscellaneous artefacts and imagery. Darboven writes every day and works like T03410, involving extended numerical sequences, are always written out by hand. Darboven's fascination with numbers relates to their aesthetic and their ordering properties.

T03410 is the second part of a two-part work. Both halves of the work, entitled ‘Card Index: Filing Cabinet', were exhibited simultaneously in two New York galleries in April 1978, Part 1 at the Leo Castelli Gallery and Part 2 at Sperone Westwater Fischer. This was the first time that Darboven had exhibited her work, following a decision to stop exhibiting temporarily in 1976. The first part of the work is now in the collection of Leo Castelli, New York. When T03410 was exhibited at Pittsburgh in 1980 (the first part of the work was not included in this exhibition) it was erroneously listed in the catalogue as ‘Construction 19 x 42/60 Part 2'. According to the artist, this is a sub-title only.

The first part of the subtitle ‘Construction 19' indicates that in its complete form, the main part of work consists of nineteen large framed panels. T03410 is composed of ten panels, numbered 10-19. There is also a framed index belonging to T03410, consisting of thirteen handwritten sections mounted on one sheet of paper, in one frame. When first exhibited in New York, the main panels of T03410 were displayed in groups but an installation photograph of the Pittsburgh exhibition shows that the panels were installed frame to frame in a continuous line, with the index placed on an adjacent wall.

The artist has confirmed that the work is dedicated to Johann Jacob Moser who was born in Stuttgart in 1701 (d.1785) and had a long career as an academic and as an administrator in various German States. He wrote chiefly on law and is known for his many volumes on constitutional law (see Henry and Mary Garland, The Oxford Companion to German Literature, Oxford 1976, p.607).

Discussing T03410 in his catalogue introduction for the Pittsburgh exhibition in 1980, Explorations in the 70s, Robert Rosenblum wrote:

Already in the 1950s, an artist like Johns made us realize that, say, the sequence of numbers from 0 to 9, or letters from A to Z, could be compelling both as a kind of intentionally coherent system to order a work of art as well as a visually beautiful progression of two-dimensional signs. In the case of the German artist, Hanne Darboven, this terrain continues to be explored in her fascination with both the idea of, and the look of, numerical and verbal series, which can be experienced both as calligraphic patterns on a flat surface and an abstract image of rigorous order that lines up, frame after frame, like a multi-volumed encyclopedia or an alphabetical sequence of catalogue cards. For inspiration, she often uses existing as well as personally invented systems of order, as in the case of the work in this show which is based on a filing system by the 18th-century German jurist, Johann Jakob Moser. Here we have displayed what becomes the Platonic ideal of a well-ordered, pre-industrial library, an obsessive proliferation of the tidiest handwritten scribbles that evoke a series of words and numbers which have a totally consistent internal order but which have been deprived of their usefulness as cataloguing references by being transformed into often illegible patterns that we experience as a kind of cerebral decoration. The tug here between the sheerly abstract beauty of words, numbers, and systems and their utilitarian function is a familiar one in much art of the 1970s, which, as in LeWitt's work, often makes us see the aesthetic pleasures of a personal world of rules and regulations geared to the making of art and not to the processing of data [p.8].


The introduction to the index, hand-written by Darboven and dated 28.2.1975/11.3.1975, is headed ‘Card-Index, Filing-Cabinet' and gives the following information in German and then in English:


Organisation: the cards or sheets have generally the following
Sizes : Dim A3
Sizes : Dim A4
Sizes : Dim A5
Sizes : Dim A6
Sizes : Dim A7
[European standard measurements]

Double-cards or pocket-cards are also in use. Groups of standard cards are classified by means of lead-cards.
Notes kept by scholars were the precursors of present day filing systems.
Johann Jacob Moser [prominent German jurist, *18.1.1701, + 30.9.1785] teacher of constitutional and international law is known to have used such a system when he wrote the first complete treatease [sic] on german constitutional-law

am-burg-berg -dash

‘Am Burg-berg' is a reference to the artist's address in Hamburg where she makes all her works; the word ‘dash' is the way she indicates a pause in her working rhythm.

Hanne Darboven developed her ‘konstructionen', linear constructions of numbers, executed originally in pencil on graph paper, during her first stay in New York in 1966-8 (she has subsequently divided her time between Hamburg and America). On returning to Hamburg from New York in 1968, she wrote:

I built up something by having disturbed something: destruction becomes construction. Action interrupts contemplation, as the means of accepting something among many given alternatives, for accepting nothing becomes chaos. A system became necessary: how else could I in a concentrated way find something of interest which lends itself to continuation? My systems are numerical concepts, which work in terms of progressions and/or reductions akin to musical themes with variations (Darboven, ‘Artists on their Art', Art International, vol.12, April 1968, p.55).


Much of Darboven's work takes as its starting point the simple addition of numbers given first in date form. Darboven told the compiler that T03410 is based on ‘counting the century' from 0 to 99. Coosje van Bruggen has written:

Hanne Darboven's construct of time is about the transience of life, the inevitable passage of time ... Darboven has set up constructs of time in writing ... The date, as fixed in the Gregorian Calendar, is one of our systems of recording and measuring time. And Darboven uses it to personify time, basing various constructs upon it. She may write out the date in full, or she may replace it with numbers. January 1 1988, for instance, can be written 1.1.88. These numbers themselves can be translated into a program of linked units, each consisting of one upward and one downward stroke: for example, 1 plus 1 plus 8 plus plus 8 equals 18; 18 can be expressed by one row of ten units and second of eight, with at the end of the respective rows, the Arabic numerals 10 and 8. Innumerable variations ... have appeared in Darboven's work over the years. And though the pages of daily writing completed over a chosen time will be structurally alike, sometimes conforming together to a particular underlying mathematical system, it is also the case that within each page and within each line of each page, the handwriting evokes the emotive quality of the unique moment in which it is written (Coosje van Bruggen, ‘Today Crossed Out, an Introduction to a Project by Hanne Darboven', Artforum, vol.26, Jan. 1988, pp.70-2).


The third sheet of the index for T03410 is headed: ‘Indices 19 x 42/60 2 teil [Part 2] 61-2, 60 with the instruction ‘Rechnungs beispiel' [example of calculation] 1+1+0+0=2' (see Coosje van Bruggen 1988). In relation to the artist's indication to the compiler that the work is based on counting a century, the index also shows the following numbers ‘1.1.00' (the first day of the first month in the year 00) and 31.12.99 (the last day of the last month in the year 99). The remaining sheets of the index lay out the numerical sequences within the main panels. For the ten large panels, Darboven has used printed graphic units and handwriting. Each of the panels (10-19) consists of an overall support of white hot pressed cartridge paper. To each of these are stuck sixty individually numbered sheets of yellow, lightweight wove paper, framed ten across and six down. Each of the yellow sheets in turn supports two grey sheets of medium weight wove paper. On the yellow sheets is a regular caligraphic pattern of black ink loops, resembling writing. Each of the sheets is paginated (from one to sixty), reading across from top left to bottom right, and the panel number (for example ‘10' or ‘19') is written in the centre between the two grey cards. The two smaller grey sheets within each unit are printed with a series of grids. In panel 10, Seite [page] 1, the left hand top grey sheet has sixty-one squares and the right hand bottom grey sheet has two squares. In page two, the top sheet loses a square to the bottom sheet and so on. Within the main panel only forty-two units (the yellow pages) are ‘active' at any one time, starting from page ten. The remaining eighteen are cancelled by x's. The active units are numbered. Thus there are three series of numbers; the main panel number, the page number, and the unit number.

At page thirty, the half way point in panel ten, the top grey sheet carries twenty-two squares and the bottom sheet twenty-one squares. In the next page the squares are reversed so that the top sheet carries twenty-one squares and the bottom sheet twenty-two. Within the panel, the number and arrangement of the squares corresponds in the top left and bottom right pages. In panel eleven this system is adhered to but here the active sheets are adjusted, so that the accumulation and decrease of the squares appear on different pages, starting from page nine, instead of ten, (as in panel 10). The adjustment is carried on within the remaining panels, so that the same totals are arrived at but in different configurations. In her review of the exhibitions at Castelli and Sperone Westwater Fischer, Edit DeAk wrote:

What I am certain of is that the panels include ‘X'-ed-out index cards which increase in number per panel at Castelli, and decrease at Sperone. If I am right, the number of ‘X'-ed-out cards determines a particular shift of the permutation throughout the panel it belongs to, thus the overall arithmetic progression is distorted in varying degrees, making each local area slightly out of sync, until in a relay-loop-like manner, it catches up with itself, or rather with the new order it defines and dictates. So within the mechanisms of her counting and writing and filing, Darboven complicates the system she works with enough to have a hovering tension as the disturbed orders articulate their new form and complete the cycle. Her work is certainly not a relentless exercise of brainless repetition. She seems to make sure that there is enough challenge imposed on the simple arithmetic to sustain her (p.77).


As the work's index states, its organisation is based on Standard European paper sizes, the yellow sheets within each panel are A4 (297 x 210 mm). Although not given in the index, A2 size paper measures 420 x 600 cms (the 42/60 which, as demonstrated in the main panels, is the root of the work's arrangement). The A2 format is broken down into A4 (the yellow sheets) and again to A6 (the grey cards). Another clue is given in the dates of Johann Jacob Moser, to whom the work is dedicated. If these are added according to Darboven's system they give the following results: Date of birth, 18.1.1701 = 1+8+1+1+7+0+1 = 19, Date of death, 30.9.1785 = 30+9+1+7+8+5 = 60. These provide the figures 19 and 60 or the subtitle. The total, sixty, can also be arrived at by adding the dates on the top of the index 2+8+2+1+9+7+5 = 34 and 1+3+1+9+7+5 = 26 (34+26 = 60).

The artist told the compiler that this work is about past, present and future (hence the inclusion of the reference to Moser, as an encapsulation of the past).

Thomas Lawson wrote when the work was first exhibited:

As the system unfolds it builds a sense of expectation as if it were a narrative. Space is not an issue in Darboven's work; everything is couched in terms of the passage of time - the time taken to write it, the time necessary to read it.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.504-7