On Kawara: degrees of separation

Continuing on with contributions to “On Kawara” (2002, Phaidon), Gary Neill Kennedy (a Canadian conceptual artist) shares his experience of meeting On in the late 60s in Nova Scotia. At that time, Kennedy was working at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in Halifax. He mentions spending an evening playing poker with On, On’s wife Hiroko, Jerry Ferguson, and Kaspar König. It sounds like that is the only encounter Kennedy had with On. He didn’t have a lot to say about him but shared a few details—On was in Nova Scotia fishing for salmon and played poker with the cool guys at the school. Perhaps, On was a regular guy after all. A regular guy with some cool ideas that caught people’s attention–he was sending telegrams at that time with the message ‘I AM STILL ALIVE.’ I remember my mother and I going to the “Telegram” office to collect telegrams when we lived in Malta. They were from my itinerant father, probably announcing when he’d be back from his latest overseas job.

I attended the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in ’91 and ’92. There I met a man, Lenny, who is now my partner, and who also worked at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design. Lenny interacted with Kennedy to some extent as Kennedy was still the President at the school—he was President for 23 years and is credited with shaping NSCAD’s international reputation. So taking this into account, I am only two degrees of separation away from On Kawara: Lenny–>Garry Neill Kennedy–>On. But this happened in the late 60s, I was just a toddler then.

There are no audio or video clips of On Kawara. He did not give interviews. Why?

I am curious about On’s wife, Hiroko Hiraoko. I wonder what role she played in On’s work or life. I haven’t found any information on her yet, other than a book published in 1970 titled “I met On Kawara.”

  • On sent the first telegram in 1969 and continued all the way through 2000
  • Telegram technology was no longer available in the USA in 2006
  • The last telegrams were transmitted in India in 2013

Source for bullet points: Annette Lawrence, Artist on Artist Lecture, retrieved April 18, 2021, https://youtu.be/l_xKis5j0bw