A note on Gerard Byrne

It is difficult to find the terms required to talk about Gerard Byrne’s work – he, for a start crosses many disciplines, both materially and philosophically; I fear I might forget something truly important. Also with Byrne’s work being so popular there is always an opinion – coming from someone else’s experience of the work left floating in the ether and I find this distracting. For example in many reviews of A Thing is a Hole in a Thing It Is Not (2010) one often hears mention of the term ‘Minimalism’, which I find difficult to come to terms with. Yes the work is dominated by a conversation between artist’s that historically-speaking would be described as Minimalist (though they themselves may not have agreed), furthermore the work features screen shots of Minimal works, and yet I really do not think that Byrne is a Minimalist – or even overly concerned with the genre. For me he is an observer, he wants to get under the skin of creation in the only way possible – by stoic observance. Of course we also have a great deal of theatricality and a ‘still life’ definition to much of the detail in the work. So even though I would love to talk more about Byrne’s recent Whitechapel exhibition, I fear I cannot. What I can do is comment on what struck me about A Thing is a Hole in a Thing It Is Not, a work I have now seen on several occasions, but which always offers up something new. It also, I feel, accesses the essence to Byrne’s practice. The, what I would term as ‘phrasing’, of each part to this work, creates a temporality in which the determining factor to the outcome of this work is that of the work itself. What I mean is the completed work controls the environment in which it exists. One moves through the space because of the work, we see things, because of the work – the artist is no longer present, and though some of his intentions are adhered to, ultimately the work retains control. The work – any work, exists because of the temporality of the artist during creation and yet the completed work may indeed be far removed from the process that brought it into being. The exhibition work soon becomes its own vision of the original concept. I say ‘exhibition’ because a certain passivity remains within the work whilst in the studio, it is still linked to the artist habitat; on display this is not the case. This passing of the mantle between creator and creation empowers the work and leaves the artist in something of a void; which I believe Byrne is concerned with here. The artist now becomes the observer and this passivity can be jarring. When the artist is– as is the case in this reenactment of Dan Flavin discussing his neons, suddenly activated as passive viewer (which he may not have yet realised he had become) through an interview on the work, the phraseology he uses to transcribe the work for the person asking, can ring untrue. In this way the work has committed its final insult to its creator; it has forgotten where it came from. This is why there exists a disconnect between the work, its creator and the historicity associated with the work. The clarity of shot, cutting and method of projection all subscribed to by Byrne in A Thing is a Hole in a Thing It Is Not mean that a viewer, such as myself; completely disconnected to the process of the work’s creation, suddenly becomes intimately involved in the artist’s process. To be involved in this manner creates a state of instant agreement to occur between artist and viewer and therefore as we hear the interviews and see the shots of the work unfold in the exhibition space, we feel his betrayal.

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