Darboven lived in New York between 1966 and 1968 and had contact with representatives of minimal art, such as Sol Lewitt and Carl Andre. Her first abstract geometric constructions on graph paper, which she varied serially, emerged during this time. Although minimal art dogmatically insisted on a lack of reference, Darboven soon began to reintroduce specific content and circumstances, with the visualization of time sequences becoming a central theme in her work. She achieved this by developing her own notation systems in which numbers—which she regards as the only real invention of man—play a central role. Her early major work, the installation One Century (Library), 1970/71, is based on traditional calendar dates. She systematizes them according to a personal set of rules on sheets of paper which she groups in folders: From the numbers of days, months, years, and centuries, she forms cross sums and translates these into geometric forms. The extension of time can thus be experienced both as a linear sequence and in the form of tabular figures, with Darboven repeatedly emphasizing the central significance of the aesthetic qualities of her notations.
From the mid-1970s on, specific aspects of human cultural and political history appear in the form of text quotations, drawings, prints, or photographs in Darboven’s visualizations of the passing of time. These are presented without hierarchy or commentary, but one can read a warning commitment between the lines—not least against the background of German twentieth-century history. Materials on the Bismarck period, speeches by Willy Brandt or articles in the magazine Der Spiegel, texts by Heinrich Heine, Charles Baudelaire, Rainer Maria Rilke, or Jean Paul Sartre, and photographic and graphic representations of cultural and scientific achievements can become starting points for a critical reflection on the past.