Chapter 7: Autobiography, 1958–1980s, Antwerp-Los Angeles / Hoofdstuk 7: Autobiografie / Chapitre 7: Autobiographie
In 1969, Byars wrote 1/2 an Autobiography while seated on a chair in Wide White Space Gallery. This was a collection of disparate sentences, such as ‘you reading my big sample is one of my works’, in which an anti-confessional Byars played with our biographical reflex towards artists and poets, which Roland Barthes had recently displayed in The Death of the Author (1967).
In 1970, Byars completed another Autobiography, a short 16mm film containing nothing but black. Byars, dressed in white, emerges very briefly just before the 24th second. Although the notion of autobiography is very much present in his oeuvre, Byars shunned biographical details and built a strategy of ephemeral presences and concealing costumes. Like a prompter under the stage, he would whisper what we already knew but had forgotten for a moment.
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The Name of the Artist
James Lee Byars, The Name of the Artist, 1974. Installation, 3 double-sided pieces, black wrinkled tissue paper, glass, wooden frame, 140 x 42.5 cm, 2 x (Ø 42.5 cm).
The Wings for Writing
James Lee Byars, The Wings for Writing, 1972. Object, red silk cuffs with feathers, 2 x (48 x 88 cm).
Einstein, Stein and Wittg...
James Lee Byars, Einstein, Stein and Wittgenstein, 1984-1989. Sculpture, gold-painted furka stones, 8 x 20 x 13.5 cm, 12 x 14 x 12 cm, 10.5 x 23.5 x 16.5 cm.
James Lee Byars, Autobiography, 1970. Video, 16 mm film transferred onto video, black and white, 00:10:00.