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Mark Formanek, Datum, since 1992

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Mark Formanek, Datum, since 1992, 51°57'42.9"N 7°37'36.8"E

A small white sign is hanging three metres above the ground on a brick wall located between the Domplatz and the Historische Rathaus at the corner of Michaelisplatz. Compared to the sizable advertising panels or eye-catching billboards, it is rather inconspicuous, a part of the daily urban life. The concept artist Mark Formanek (b. 1967) created the work consisting of altogether twelve signs. They all have the same design and can only be distinguished by their inscription; as the title suggests, each sign bears its own date, comprising the day, month, year and time, accurate to the minute. The first sign was installed at the Hawerkamp in 1992, the next one at today’s location at the Michaelisplatz in 1996. Since then, a new sign has followed every four years, with each sign indicating the date and time of the next replacement: 17 March 2000, 5:15 pm, 12 March 2004, 5:45 pm, 24 March 2008 17:00 pm, 28 March 2012 16:45 pm, 3 April 2016 17:15 pm, 2 April 2020 16:00 pm, 27 March 2024 16:30 pm. The work has its own rhythm; it produces a perpetual recurrence, a ritual beyond the well-familiar holidays distributed over the year.

To await only the specific act commissioned by the artist would presumably lead to great disappointment: on the given date, the sign is merely exchanged for a new one—one date is replaced by another. Despite the fact that this artwork in public space has a certain austerity to it, or precisely because of this—it represents nothing but a concept, a subversive gesture—its recipients inherit a decisive role. They celebrate it with sparkling wine, cake, flowers and applause; they exchange thoughts, meet new people and consciously enjoy the moment. The act of exchanging the sign provides the occasion, but it is the people who allow the work to transform into a significant event—the spectators become protagonists. A process takes its course and develops its own dynamics. The sign itself appears to function as a tool, a bit like the first stone of a domino effect.

During the four years in which each sign hangs at this prominent spot in the inner city, passed on a daily basis by numerous citizens of Münster, it arouses their curiosity and suspense. What will happen on this day, at the indicated time? Their wilful intention to be present and take part in the event—gradually increasing over the years—brings many people to gather independently in front of the wall at the announced time. A group of like-minded people is formed, not just because they had all decided to mark the date in their calendar, but also for very personal reasons, such as a birthday to be celebrated next to the Domplatz in view of the occasion.

Moreover, the work may contribute to a heightened awareness of time and the relativization of incidents. Four years are spent waiting for this date, looking forward to this specific point in time, and then the day comes, the minute passes, and everything is over. Even if one evidently has little influence on the passing of time, nor on the things happening in the interim, one always has a choice as to one’s attitude toward current circumstances, what one makes of a given situation. Time flies, never stops. People rush from one appointment to the next, while bearing all the things in mind that they need to squeeze into their full calendars. Sometimes it takes someone or something that brings us to a halt, even if it is just for a brief moment. Perhaps a sign that says: “Check the date and see what time it is!”, as a chance for us to take some of that precious time between those fast-paced everyday procedures.

Mark Formanek has dealt with time in several works—with its progression, its transience and with bringing these aspects to our awareness in a physical sense.¹ “Dealer of the future and the past”, therefore is a name the artist surely merits. The signs of the series Date will be regularly exchanged for a total of forty-eight years. People in Münster will have the opportunity to accept the offer of taking action until 2040. Then Mark Formanek will have given the city nearly fifty years of time, the sign will be taken down and will not be replaced by a new one.

Laura Schulte Sasse

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Mark Formanek’s Standard Time is a huge “digital” clock, 4 x 12 metres large, with digits composed of wooden slats. The slats cannot move mechanically. It takes muscle power, and a lot of it, because the aim of the work is to display the current time synchronically. 72 workers rearranged the digits all in all 1611 times in four shifts during a 24-hour performance. This was filmed in order to produce a DVD that, if it is inserted in the drive at the right moment, always displays the exact time.