The Pink Silk Airplane

2018 james lee byars photo m hka perfoamnce 1 2 3

James Lee Byars


Sculptuur, 560 x 250 cm, 175 x 150 x 50 cm.
Materials: silk, wooden showcase

Collection: MOMA (Collection Daled) / Kewenig Gallery, Berlin.

"Back in New York, I made such a pluralistic structure in order to walk around with five hundred around a residential block. At the time I was mainly interested in the fact that man and woman could get in that dress at the same time, one didn't see any difference anymore. All people are equal, only their head sticks out. I could do this with a subsidy from the Architects League. Afterwards, the dress was cut in pieces and everyone could take his piece home with him. You start to wonder: what does clothing actually mean? What is the legal status of a man and a woman walking around the streets in the same structure? If you are four people entering a museum under one dress, are you one or four? It has something to do with that alliance of people. Maybe people will once look like this, maybe Martians look like this. Perhaps '100 in an airplane' is just a superficial description of such a Mars situation. Maybe later, it will indeed be possible to make people that are joined together.

I mostly make those structures in silk because that is a fine material – light and airy. It is the most weightless suggestion of solidarity. And it's practical: I fly a lot, and all can be taken with me in a small bag. I think it's fantastic in a jet, with my own plane next to me. I tell my fellow passengers, but they usually don't believe it. They think I'm from the moon. You can see such an airplane in different ways. You can see it as a 'soft sculpture', or as a stage, or as matter, or as a piece of clothing. The kind of mask we're in now too, by the way. But my plane gives cause to a more speculative situation. If in Oxford, I can get the students and professors to wear it, that could be great. (It didn't work out, G.B.) It works stimulating. It is a passing change of attention, with dramatic effect. For people who think, for whom ideas are important – for them the plane has a great significance. What I am looking for is to stimulate communication through certain inventive interventions. I try that out in different ways. I always want to find something new. [...]

Take for example that plane of mine: there too, humour plays a role, already in the colour for example. It's a big thing and it's pink as well. Pink is my favourite colour. It's probably the most used colour in the States, it has got some negative undertones, something sexy, and you don't talk about that. Once, I searched for a pink pencil all day long. I started searching in Harlem and walked all through 125th street. Here I am, looking for a pink pencil in all those 'black shops'. I thought: here I'll find it alright, because blacks have a fantastic feeling for colour and style. So I thought: here comes my pink pencil. But no: nothing. Then I went down to Columbia University, Broadway and all through Midtown. I searched for almost twelve hours, until I found my pink pencil in a children's colour box. You cannot imagine my plane in black. It has to be playful, like 'Baby Baudelaire'. In the grey of the street, it also works as a contrast. My autobiography is also printed on pink xerox. I approach these things very seriously, but there is humour too. I'm thinking of a thick pink book, as one thinks of a big piece of pink candy."

James Lee Byars in an interview by Geert Bekaert and Walter Van Dijk in Streven, Vol.22.

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