Jef Cornelis

DE WITTE RAAF

Editie 181 mei-juni 2016

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Of neem een (steun)abonnement.

James Lee Byars / Antwerp 18 April-7 May 1969

First broadcast: VRT 1, 28/11/1969, 21:30

Black and white, 32’30"

 

Reporters: Geert Bekaert and Walter Van Dyck

Camera: Guido Van Rooy

Sound recording: Jules Goris

Sound editing: Pieter Verlinden

Editing: Gust Malfliet (Studio Reusens)

Director: Jef Cornelis

Production: Jerome Verhaeghe

Programming: Ludo Bekkers

 

[00'01"] [Title]

 

James Lee Byars / Antwerpen 18 april-7 mei 1969

 

[00'08"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars sitting in the pink silk airplane]

 

James Lee Byars: Brigitte Bardot is coming tonight…

Unknown male voice-over: Yes, [inaudible phrase] …absolutely idiot…

J.L.B.: …and baby Baudelaire…

 

[00'18"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars sitting in the pink silk airplane]

 

J.L.B.: Just flying…

 

[00'32"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars sitting in the pink silk airplane; one other unknown person sitting behind him]

 

J.L.B.: Words like 'art' or 'life' or 'love' or 'philosophy', these types of words are far too enormous to have limited interpretations and I think that they’re rapidly with much information interchangeable and it becomes not only what I call it, but it becomes an art piece or show as long as it can hold attention, enough attention of people who pay attention to that area of experience.

 

[01'05"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars wearing a shirt with stars]

 

J.L.B.: It depends so much upon the attitude of people, it is very exciting to meet people who have an open attitude, who believe everything is possible, as I have put in there for example. That makes a fantastic range of experience available to you, instead of feeling that… I mean doubtful or sceptical that possibilities exist, everything is possible.

 

[01'30"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars in the company of Geert Bekaert, a silk mask connecting both; an unknown third person (Walter Van Dyck?) being present]

 

J.L.B.: Anyway I am happy to have an interview with a mask. I had one interview previously with a newspaper person in this mask and it was one of the most interesting ones I’ve had.

 

[01'39"] [James Lee Byars walking on Leopold de Waelplaats; approaching the Royal Museum of Fine Arts; Ludwig van Beethoven, Ode an die Freude; preparing 75 in a hat; unknown male participant]

 

[02'07"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars preparing 75 in a hat with Anny De Decker; unknown male participant]

 

J.L.B.: You can all move over slightly if you would, just keep the tails off the ground o.k.?

 

[02'18"] [James Lee Byars at the entrance of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts; preparing 75 in a hat; one unknown female participant]

 

J.L.B.: Let me see how you look, you look fantastic.

 

[02'25"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars preparing 75 in a hat; putting a hat on the head of Yves De Smet]

 

J.L.B.: Anny!

Yves De Smet: Moet ik mijn pruik niet afdoen, nee?

 

[02'32"] [James Lee Byars at the entrance of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts; preparing 75 in a hat; unknown male participant]

 

J.L.B.: Oe oe oe, slowly…

 

[02'37"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars preparing 75 in a hat; unknown male participant]

 

Unknown participant: That's great…

Anny De Decker: What when people want to go out of the chain, what will I do with the hat then, it’s nothing… …it’s on the floor and…

J.L.B.: Yeah… that's the best you can do; try to replace those placements.

 

[02'50"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars preparing 75 in a hat; unknown participants, one laughing loudly]

 

J.L.B.: Keep quiet…

 

[03'13"] [Entrance of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts; James Lee Byars preparing 75 in a hat; unknown child, shouting]

 

[03'17"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars wearing a silk mask]

 

J.L.B.: My interest first was in the plural structure, just to, I don’t know exactly why that I should make things that men and women can wear at the same time, that’s very interesting socially I think. That in the history of… At least I don’t know of structures where men and women wear the same structure, that people are undifferentiated, their heads stick out or their heads are covered up, this calls a new kind of experience to people, what is clothing? What does clothing mean? What is the legality of a man and a woman wearing the same structure down a New York street. If there are four people in a disc, sixteen feet in diameter, to go into the museum, are you one or are you four? Or if they were 75 in a hat, are you one or are you 75?

 

[04'04"] [Entrance of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts; 75 in a hat; alarm ringing]

 

[04'47"] [Wide White Space Gallery; 75 in a hat; unknown participant and Anny De Decker]

 

A.D.D.: Dan kunnen we samen babbelen, dat is nog zo gezellig met zo'n hoed op.

Unknown male voice: Ik kan zo ook babbelen.

A.D.D.: Ja?

 

[05'05"] [Entrance of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts; 75 in a hat; leaving the entrance of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts]

 

[05'31"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars wearing a silk mask]

 

J.L.B.: I use the streets mostly in New York because the streets are more elegant than the buildings, I think generally, and also there are great scales and there is a natural audience and that’s important to me. I have used natural landscape a great deal, like I have mentioned I wrote a hundred propositions of the geographical centre of America in 64. But I generally prefer an urban circumstance. Most of my life is mental life and it’s very exciting to be in Manhattan where there are a great number of very thoughtful people, where communication is at a very high speed and just to have so many intelligent people in a small restricted area is in itself interesting I think geographically. Like in New York I think people are half excited all the time, and so I mean there are many things… the problems of living themselves are exciting, and then when they are very sensitive to the development of ideas that appear infrequent to them or unusual, they are extremely sensitive to that, and that is landscape to me.

 

[06'34"] [75 in a hat; Leopold de Waelplaats; unknown child shouting 'knip', 'knip', 'knip'…]

 

[06'46"] [Wide White Space Gallery; 75 in a hat; unknown child shouting 'knip', 'knip', 'knip'…]

 

[07'01"] [in front of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts; 75 in a hat; unknown child shouting 'knip', 'knip', 'knip'…]

 

[07'08"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars in the company of Geert Bekaert, a silk mask connecting both]

 

J.L.B.: How fabulous for the idea of the museum to be a television museum if we still have such a category. But it will be interesting also to excuse the name of museum even perhaps, to include other areas of inquiry or presentation of ideas. Say if we just called one to sixty minutes, and then the program could be one minute or it could be twenty minutes or it could be thirty minutes. For example I have been in the gallery everyday for two weeks and maybe I have been very lucky that some days that maybe a dozen people would come. But the general attendance of the gallery is maybe one or two people a day. How interesting it would be for example for the Belgians, to be able to establish the idea of the presentation of such ideas on television, and since you are planning to build a new museum in quotes it would be very interesting for this country for Belgium for example, to do this on an international dimension, why just Belgium, and that would be a great excitement I think for your country, to be able to… Instead of investing in a building, to invest in television time and public time. [1]

 

[08'15"] [Leopold de Waelplaats; 75 in a hat; Ludwig van Beethoven, Ode an die Freude]

 

[08'22"] [Wide White Space Gallery; 75 in a hat; Ludwig van Beethoven, Ode an die Freude; Georges Adé & Yves De Smet among the participants]

 

[08'45"] [Leopold de Waelplaats; 75 in a hat; people watching behind their windows; Ludwig van Beethoven, Ode an die Freude]

 

[08'53"] [Wide White Space Gallery; 75 in a hat; Ludwig van Beethoven, Ode an die Freude; Anny De Decker among the participants]

 

[09'03"] [75 in a hat; participants entering and leaving the Wide White Space Gallery]

 

[09'07"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars wearing a shirt with stars]

 

J.L.B.: When I first went to New York for a public show in 61, I lived in Harlem, north in Harlem and there was a great old Jewish factory merchant and he had an apartment upstairs and he said: 'if you clean it up you can live there free'. I was going to be there a month for a show and I said 'super'. So I bought the Sunday New York Times which is a thousand pages… the Sunday New York Times and I bought I don’t know a few hundred thumbtacks and I didn’t do any cleaning at all, I just went in with the newspaper and I thumbtacked all over the entire apartment, the floor and the wall and I had this beautiful Sunday Times.

 

[09'48"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars in the company of Geert Bekaert, a silk mask connecting both]

 

J.L.B.: I came back from Japan after a year scholarship and the university was not very receptive of what I was doing and so forth, Detroit was not receptive and I got into New York City and Dorothy Miller the curator bought the first work and was very excited and she said to bring all that I could as quickly as possible. I told her that I had a part time job working for Cadillac in Detroit Michigan and sometimes wealthy people in New York City would buy an enormous car and I could put my works into the car and drive into New York City and I did so. And there wasn’t other exhibition space and I said the fire escape is magnificent, it was a square room with a single row of light going down and we used five floors and I put different works that were different kinds of configurational studies on different levels of the fire escape and people walked out of the museum. [2]

 

[10'39"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars wearing a shirt with stars]

 

J.L.B.: I’m an artist, maybe… quotation marks [laughs], yeah. Some people think I am an artist.

Walter Van Dyck: I don't like the sound… [inaudible phrase]

J.L.B.: Ooh well, exhibition display, one of the reasons is…

W.V.D.: [inaudible phrase]

J.L.B.: …because I am interested in the possible process of presentation of ideas…

W.V.D.: Yeah, yeah.

J.L.B.: …and show is one way to present ideas or display or lecture or exhibition or discovery or hypothesis, any of those would do.

W.V.D.: [inaudible phrase] …it isn't only a show… it's a kind of living…

J.L.B.: Yeah, but it’s exciting in the art world for example for it to be considered a show, because it’s a new process of presentation.

 

[11'21"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars putting two unknown participants (a male and a female participant) under a silk cloth, putting a mask above their noses and a hat on their head]

 

J.L.B.: Yes, just sit on the floor, or I'll get you a cushion if you’re too cold…

Unknown male participant: Yes, perhaps a cushion.

J.L.B.: [talking to the male participant] O.k.… let me get all of this material…

Unknown male participant: O.k.

J.L.B.: [talking to the male participant] Yes, just push it right ahead… excellent… thank you…

J.L.B.: [talking to the female participant] You can breathe?

 

[12'27"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars in the company of Geert Bekaert, a silk mask connecting both]

 

J.L.B.: I was an independent honors student and I was very interested in comparative philosophy, I didn’t know too much about it but I was very interested in the writings of Suzuki and I wanted to go and see. And I was also very interested in George Fox, the founder of Quakerism and it interested me the idea, what is the difference or what are the comparisons between the ideas of Satorian [?] revelation and things of that type, and my interest in paper… and for reasons that I really don’t know. [3]

 

[13'01"] [Wide White Space Gallery; two unknown participants (a male and a female participant) under a silk cloth, with a hat and masked]

 

[13'12"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars in the company of Geert Bekaert, a silk mask connecting both]

 

J.L.B.: I think that the Shintoism has been very interesting to me, the Shinto religion, I think it’s one of the most mysterious rituals I have ever experienced. The Noh theatre was very important to me. The writings of great poets like Issa or the paintings of great priests or such things as I mentioned: 'like a dream, like a vision, like a bubble, like a shadow, like dew, like lightning, man'. [4]

 

[13'39"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars wearing a shirt with stars]

 

J.L.B.: I just said: talk faster in there, you know, because… just a change of pace, a change of pace. I think it’s equally interesting for people to speak very slowly: I… am… sometimes! In language teaching I found it often very beneficial just to stop making any sounds at all and just move my mouth.

W.V.D.: You were talking about the Manhattan scene, everybody talking at the same time?

J.L.B.: Yes, there’s a lot of that… especially women are fantastically capable of that, like in midday restaurants in Manhattan… Again, we normally think of I talk and you talk and so forth, in some type of sequence like that, but in actuality, everybody… if you listen, talks all the time anyway, and it’s really very fantastic.

W.V.D.: Do you understand anything of it?

J.L.B.: Oh yes, sure, and they understand each other perfectly well, which is really fantastic. One of the people that I liked in Japan was an old priest in the seventh century, and he…

W.V.D.: …not the one who walks fifty feet?

J.L.B.: No this one was living. But the man would meet with seven people at the same time and demand that they all speak at once, and then he dealt with all of the problems, he is the one who changed Chinese into Japanese, city planning, bridges, libraries, all of these things the man was responsible for.

W.V.D.: What was his name?

J.L.B.: He was called Kobo Daishi, a great old priest. But it’s interesting to me because it simply again indicates that we have enormous potential that we don’t use, everybody knows that. [5]

W.V.D.: For sure.

J.L.B.: And so it’s fun to find some shift, some shift in attention that requires people to re-evaluate their activity.

 

[15'25"] [Wide White Space Gallery; two unknown participants (a male and a female participant) under a silk cloth, with a hat and masked]

 

[15'30"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars wearing a shirt with stars]

 

J.L.B.: What is the difference between one minute and a hundred minutes or one minute, finally the only thing I can say is that it’s different.

 

[15'36"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars assisting two unknown participants to end the performance under a silk cloth]

 

J.L.B.: You liked it?

Unknown male participant: Yes [inaudible phrase]. Thanks.

J.L.B.: Thank you very much.

Unknown male voice: Would you put out the lights?

Unknown male voice: Turn out?

Unknown male voice: Yes.

 

[15'59"] [Wide White Space Gallery fully darkened]

 

[16'00"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars wearing a shirt with stars]

 

J.L.B.: I’m interested in fantasy and I’m interested in dreams and things of that type and it’s very difficult to tell what is and what isn’t, I mean like that.

W.V.D.: Interested in fantasy, so why do you want people to ask direct questions?

J.L.B.: Well I like both, that’s one thing that interests me, but I’m interested in as much ration as people can have too. But like the airplane (a pink silk airplane for 100) to me is a great fantasy.

W.V.D.: Just fantasy?

J.L.B.: No not just fantasy, but fantasy.

 

[16'29"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars wearing a shirt with stars; dealing with silk cloth]

 

[16'38"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars wearing a shirt with stars]

 

J.L.B.: I think that those things probably emerged spontaneously, you know. It has often amused me to imagine the first man who made an umbrella, or imagine the first man that said 'HU! HU!'. That’s a fantastic image to me and I’ve made shows, I mean in some of this, even the airplane works this way a little bit, people say 'uh'. What makes people say 'uh'?

 

[17'01"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars wearing a shirt with stars; dealing with silk cloth]

 

[17'20"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars in the company of Geert Bekaert, a silk mask connecting both]

 

J.L.B.: Silk is nice because it’s so very light and airy and it’s the nearest suggestion of the connection… I like that, it is… I can… I travel by airplane and I can put all of these things into a little bag and I can move with my pink silk airplane.

 

[17'35"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars wearing a shirt with stars; dealing with silk cloth]

 

J.L.B.: Looks like a wing.

 

[17'50"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars in the company of Geert Bekaert, a silk mask connecting both]

 

J.L.B.: Pink usually has – as I say – a very negative type of connotations, a sexual or whatever… that generally is not thought of as exciting and bright and beautiful and it’s playful, it’s a playful colour and the airplane has all of that in it.

 

[18'10"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars putting one unknown female participant in the pink silk airplane]

 

[18'24"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars wearing a shirt with stars; dealing with silk cloth]

 

J.L.B.: Well my father is very… American traditional. He’s a lawyer and he’s very conservative.

W.V.D.: What has this to do with conservative?

J.L.B.: Well it isn’t the way that he would spend his money or time, I don’t think.

W.V.D.: It’s completely different.

J.L.B.: Yes, I know.

W.V.D.: You can make him happy maybe…

J.L.B.: Maybe…

W.V.D.: …when he looks at this?

J.L.B.: …he’s invited – invited.

 

[18'54"] [Wide White Space Gallery; one unknown female participant in the pink silk airplane]

 

Unknown female voice: James?

J.L.B.: Pull your feet in.

Unknown female voice: [inaudible phrase]

J.L.B.: Of course… pull your feet in please, your feet, feet. That’s good.

W.V.D.: What about your mother?

J.L.B.: She’s more sensitive to the things, but also it’s outside of the normal framework of their way of doing.

W.V.D.: They don’t appreciate it at all?

J.L.B.: They appreciate it and they appreciate that I have some success in what I’m doing.

W.V.D.: Do you have any brothers or sisters?

J.L.B.: No…

J.L.B.: [to the unknown female participant] 'Round'…

 

[19'34"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars sitting in the pink silk airplane]

 

J.L.B.: [voice-over] The airplane… The airplane, to me is a kind of metaphysical representation of the idea of an airplane.

 

[19'44"] [Wide White Space Gallery; Anny De Decker and James Lee Byars putting Isi Fiszman, Walter Van Dyck, Werner De Bondt and several unknown male and female participants in the pink silk airplane]

 

A.D.D.: Leave the coats outside.

J.L.B.: With your knees up like this and put your arms around like this, so you look very round.

Unknown female participant: That’s what I’m doing.

J.L.B.: Good.

A.D.D.: …dan is dat zo schoon rond…

J.L.B.: And Anny straighten up the line would you please here? That’s perfect, can you sit like that?

Unknown female participant: I’m always sitting like this.

J.L.B.: Fantastic. You sit beautifully, fly nicely.

Unknown female participant: Cold feet I have. [laughter]

J.L.B.: If you are uncomfortable with [inaudible phrase] I will take you out as soon as you are uncomfortable… please. Put your feet back some more, that’s beautiful.

 

[21'12"] [camera traveling along people in the pink silk airplane, among whom Flor Bex, Werner De Bondt, Walter Van Dyck, Anny De Decker and several unknown male and female participants]

 

Voice-over: 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.'

 

[21'50"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars in the company of Geert Bekaert, a silk mask connecting both]

 

J.L.B.: Well the airplane, there are many ways to think of it, I suppose, it could be considered a soft sculpture, it could be considered theatre, it could be considered merely material, it could be considered a dress. I use it in all different ways, the airplane lends itself, I think, to a very speculative situation, like I mentioned at Oxford, it would be very exciting if I’m able to get students and instructors in that to give me the questions if they will. And it acts as an initial kind of catalytic stimulus, I think, it's a momentary dramatic change of attention and sometimes that helps, and for some people that’s interesting. [6]

 

[22'34"] [Wide White Space Gallery; Anny De Decker and James Lee Byars helping Isi Fiszman, Walter Van Dyck, Werner De Bondt and several unknown male and female participants to get out the pink silk airplane]

 

[22'42"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars wearing a shirt with stars]

 

J.L.B.: Maybe the hundred in the airplane or hundred in a disc is a superficial description perhaps of a very Plutonian circumstance, I don’t know. Anyway it’s funny. And sometimes I amuse myself with the idea that maybe these are civil defence as training devices for our galaxy, I…

 

[23'02"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars walking in the empty gallery with silk cloth]

 

[23'14"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars sitting in the pink silk airplane]

 

J.L.B.: The autobiography is the special interest of this show, it… I have just turned 37 as you probably noticed… I like the line. When I became 36 I had 36 birthday parties and that’s half… relative I suppose… half way statistically of an average human life and what this really eventuates in being too is a review of things that I thought had been important in regards to my career.

 

[23'43"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars sitting behind a wall, his face only being visible through a hole in the wall]

 

J.L.B.: This is one of the pages of my autobiography. 'I’m full of Byars.' 'What’s the speed of an idea?' 'At first sight you perceive the full potential of circumstance.' 'Baby Baudelaire.' [7]

 

[23'55"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars and Walter Van Dyck sitting in the pink silk airplane]

 

J.L.B.: One of the shows as I mentioned in the autobiography was the 99 day 99 dollar bus trip zigzag across America from the West to the East coast. And I was… one of the places that I used was in the landscape: the geographical centre of America from which I wrote a hundred propositions and I was having breakfast there before going South and I met a little road town man. He was very interested in what I was doing and I told him that I had written a hundred propositions of the geographical centre of America and he thought that was fantastic and I said well what do you do, and he said he was an instant space installer for missile sites. And…

W.V.D.: Do you believe everybody always?

J.L.B.: Well that’s an interesting question, I realize that we drift, but I think finally I have to believe everything that everybody says.

W.V.D.: You have to?

J.L.B.: Yes, because I think it’s impossible for example if you were to evaluate a wide range of what is possible… Yes, I have to, at least I can doubt, you know, but generally I find it better to believe everything that everybody says.

W.V.D.: So the story of the little road town man…

J.L.B.: Yes, so we went on in the bus and I thought it was interesting that this little road town man was interested in my activities and I was very pleased and we got near Denver the next morning and I said I’ve never seen Denver and he said it was his hometown. I asked him if he would be willing to hire me as his mute servant for twelve hours during which time I would simply try to do everything that he would permit me to do in regards to his perception that I didn’t interfere with his normal life. Very simple things like driving his car, opening his doors, paying his bills and things of that type and we were met at the bus station by his girlfriend and his family, I was dressed in a white linen suit and he was simply in work clothes and I got off very elegantly carrying his bags, and for twelve hours I followed him around Denver doing various types of things like driving the car and paying the bills and helping them in and out of the house and so forth and at the end of the twelve hour time he simply dropped me at the bus station and I went on to the white sands desert which is the next location for my next work.

 

[26'11"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars sitting behind a wall, his face only being visible through a hole in the wall]

 

J.L.B.: 'My long hair teaches me about temperature.' 'I did a tactile garden for Mr. Softie in 57.' 'My first New York exhibition was in the fire escape of MOMA in 56.' 'I went to Japan seven times.' 'What do you want, fame or anonymity?' 'I’m called a skinny Herman Kahn.' 'My favourite telegram was addressed to the New York gallery as this is the ghost of James Lee Byars calling the RAND corporation.' 'Who thinks I’m an artist?' 'I like to wear silk socks and patent leather shoes.' 'Mister North South made my pink silk airplane for a hundred people without batting an eye.' [8]

 

[26'49"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars wearing a shirt with stars]

 

J.L.B.: Well I think it’s the idea dimension that is most interesting to me. It’s the theoretical dimension from which all technology has come and I think that my interest is getting to the point of invention or the point of discovery theoretically, the technical applications then are much easier… as I said there, information – I think – is undifferentiated at the point of discovery whether it’s mathematical, whether it’s physical or whatever it depends on what category we can fit it into, and in that sense the arts are dead for me, in the sense that I’m interested in the discovery of fresh information.

 

[27'24"] [Wide White Space Gallery; James Lee Byars sitting behind a wall, his face only being visible through a hole in the wall]

 

J.L.B.: 'The first thing I ever learned of Shakespeare: who ever loved that loved not at first sight is true.' 'Likes the number hundred million.' 'Is a natural a.m. type.' 'How do you talk at a hundred feet?' 'Like a dream, like a vision, like a bubble, like a shadow, like dew, like lightning.' 'In 62 and 63 and 64, I…' [inaudible phrase]

 

[27'50"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars in the company of Geert Bekaert, a silk mask connecting both]

 

J.L.B.: I think that’s a terrible thing to say to a student: 'substantiate your thought' or 'who thought that before you thought that?' And I was very frustrated and so after I got out of school in reading Wittgenstein it suddenly appeared to me that what philosophy is, is a fantastic description of a person's life and that he is describing his own mind as it progressed and as it emerged, and I see all of literature that way. I see Shakespeare describing the brilliance of himself and how he experienced life, I see Wittgenstein's philosophy as a description of the development of his perception. I see my autobiography as an arbitrary segment of so many pages of time of things that I pay attention to at this point in my life. I wish that I had written an autobiography when I was ten and then at twenty and then at thirty and then at fourty, that would be very interesting. One of the pages that I like in there, I gave a blank book to a just pregnant lady and in the question of memory for example I said it might be very interesting if everyday while your child is developing you write your feelings of your child or of your pregnancy or of your feelings and then after you can give this book of your nine months of thought to your child, and I considered that one of my works.

 

[29'12"] [Wide White Space Gallery; crowded; James Lee Byars sitting behind a wall, his face only being visible through a hole in the wall]

 

J.L.B.: 'It was the first time I felt age was prestigious.' 'In 62 I asked the museum of modern art to establish an emergency room.'

 

[29'24"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars in the company of Geert Bekaert, a silk mask connecting both]

 

J.L.B.: Maybe the complete autobiography could be one sentence, I don’t know but just arbitrarily in this instance I have many pages and I would… I think that the autobiography and the process of arriving at it is very related to the idea of the connectedness of people. I think that our consciousness and our existence is more connected than we generally perceive. What is memory for example? What does memory mean? How is it that I can come with an idea like the airplane and many people understand this. Does everyone know everything already, I don’t know. How do you find out something fresh? How do you understand that this could be important?

 

[30'07"] [Wide White Space Gallery, crowded; James Lee Byars sitting behind a wall, his face only being visible through a hole in the wall]

 

J.L.B.: Beautiful, yeah! The view is magnificent, afterwards you can come and sit here, okay? Thank you it was nice seeing you again, goodbye.

 

[30'21"] [Geert Bekaert's office; James Lee Byars wearing a shirt with stars]

 

J.L.B.: And around the corner there was a small workman’s type of restaurant and there was a German immigrant woman in there and I was very quiet in the atmosphere and I usually dressed in simple black or grey at that time, so I looked like one of the normal residents of the community as long as I didn’t speak about my interests very much. And I would go in there every morning to have eggs, and I became very interested in how to cook eggs, over and up and poached and so forth. At that time I was experimenting with the egg just, just cooked to a medium degree and just turned over. And so there was a young Puerto Rican boy waiting on the counter with all these very tough truck drivers and people you know. But I asked him the first day if he could make the egg just over and medium and with toast and he understood perfectly and he… much like the donut girl had fantastic equanimity and was able to go up and down the counter making eggs and toast and serving coffee and all of these things in a beautifully coordinated way. And for 21 days he made the most beautiful eggs I’ve ever eaten and on the 21st or 22nd day I said 'you make the most beautiful eggs I’ve ever eaten in my life' and from then on he became self-conscious and the next day the eggs were overcooked or undercooked or overcooked and many times he would throw them away and start again and by the end of the month he was so embarrassed and I felt terrible, by the end of the month he refused to take any money.

 

[31'50"] [Wide White Space Gallery; empty]

 

[32'03"] [Titles]

 

[32'30"] [The end]

 

 

Notes

1 James Lee Byars refers to the plans to build a museum for modern art in Antwerp. Concerning architect Léon Stynen's plans, see: Marije Sennema, We Want the Subsidies, Not the Building, and: Winke Noppen, The Museum of Unlimited Growth, both in: CAVE#1: territories, Gent/Berlin, CAHF/Sternberg Press, 2016.

2 Dorothy Canning Miller (1904-2003) was employed as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art (New York) from 1934 until 1969.

3 Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (1870-1966) was an author of books on Buddhism; George Fox (1624-1691) was the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers or the Friends.

4 Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) was a Japanese poet and Buddhist priest.

5 Kobo Daishi (774-835) was a Japanese poet and the founder of the Shingon (the True Word school of Buddhism).

6 James Lee Byars refers to his planned trip to Oxford in the beginning of May 1969.

7 The quoted sentences are part of 100,000 Minutes or The big sample of Byars or 1/2 an autobiography or The first paper of philosophy, published by the Wide White Space Gallery in the fall of 1969.

8 Herman Kahn (1922-1983) was a military strategist at the RAND Corporation (a global policy think tank) and the founder of the Hudson Institute (a conservative non-profit think thank, first based in Croton-on-Hudson, New York). Kahn published On Thermonuclear War in 1960. James Lee Byars was artist in residence at the Hudson Institute in 1969.

 

Transcription: Jeroen Staes

Final editing: Koen Brams