100,000 Minutes or the Big Sample of Byars or 1/2 an Autobiography or the First Paper of Philosophy

2018 james lee byars photo m hka 57

James Lee Byars


Boek, 26.8 x 20.8 cm.
Materials: artist book

Collection: Private Collection.

"However, the main work of my exhibition here is writing my autobiography. I just turned 37. According to statistics, with 36, you are halfway. That's why I'm writing the first half of my autobiography now. I have four titles: 'Half a biography', 'One hundred thousand minutes', 'The Big Sample of Byars', 'The First Paper of Byars'. If I ever become 72, I'll write the second part. Actually, I should have written an autobiography when I was 10, then one on my 20th, one on my 30th birthday: now thàt would only have been interesting. I once gave a blank book to a woman who was just pregnant. In it, every day she had to record what her child felt or thought, what she felt or thought herself. Then she had to give that book with nine months of thought to her child. That's a kind of work that I love. I once exhibited nine months of a policeman's memory.

The idea of that autobiography I got through Wittgenstein. I have long thought that philosophy was a systematic doctrine around things, about things. When I proclaimed something, the professors always asked me: how did you get that idea? – in order to be able to trace that idea back to something that they'd read before. For a beginning student, it's terrible, I think, when they keep saying: prove what you say there, who thought that before you? I was very frustrated by it. When I left school, I started to read Wittgenstein and suddenly I saw that philosophy is actually a fantastic description of a person's life. He describes his own mind in its development. That is how I experience all literature. I see Shakespeare as someone who describes his own brilliance. My autobiography is an arbitrary segment of so many pages about things, thoughts or wishes that I have found important in my life. For example, on one of the pages it says: 'Baby Baudelaire'.

I found that in Brussels. I was talking about poetry with Marcel Broodthaers and suddenly I said: 'Baby Baudelaire'. It's nothing more than a charming combination, but it typifies my way of thinking. On another page, there's a poem by a Chinese priest-painter: 'Like a dream, like a vision, like a bubble, like a shadow, like dew, like lightning was his 8th name'. Every time he reached a new level of consciousness, he changed his name, which I think is fantastic. Another page tells us that we once flew Santa Claus from New York to Tokyo, in 1963. The airline thought my idea was great, they changed the whole timetable, so on Christmas night, we flew over the Arctic at exactly twelve o'clock.

Numbers fascinate me. Especially numbers with zeros. O is the first letter of the Chinese alphabet, the beginning of everything. 'One hundred thousand minutes', for example, that's a beautiful number. That does not mean that my autobiography is about one hundred thousand minutes, neither is it a story. I also love words. I once dreamed that I had the complete Oxford edition of the English Dictionary. Just the idea that you have a million words with you, that you can live with all the English words that exist! That is a material thing that I would like to possess.

I wrote that autobiography in Antwerp as part of the exhibition, to show how that works, writing an autobiography. Maybe it could only be one sentence, but maybe that's exactly why I need many pages. Before I started, I wanted to create a list of all the 'no's' I already had to face: my 'no-list'. The autobiography and the way it is created have a lot to do with the idea that people are interconnected. Our world of thought and our life itself are more bound than we suspect. What is memory actually? How is it that I come up with a new idea and that many people suddenly understand it? That kind of questions I find important. Plus the fact that it is probably the first time that a gallery exhibits someone writing his autobiography. And by the way, through such an autobiography I learn a lot from others. I think open people are fantastic, people who are not suspicious or skeptical, but who believe that everything is possible. Everything is possible. I can not always do everything. I need a response. No answers, but questions. I don't believe in answers. But I think it's super to meet someone who asks questions, there are not that many people like that. Or people who can handle questions intelligently, without approaching them dogmatically, people who are openly speculative. If I had a religion, be for me that would: one big question, the question."

Source: interview by Geert Bekaert and Walter Van Dijk in Streven, Vol.22.

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