TH FI TO IN PH
Object, 5.6 x 0.2 cm.
Materials: wooden toothpick
Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. S0389_01).
The letters that James Lee Byars wrote in pencil on a toothpick stand for The First Totally Interrogative Philosophy. According to this American sculptor and performance artist, his work opens up a space for reflection, a place where it is more important to ask questions than to provide answers. Byars regards answers as ideological constructions, as solutions that make new questions disappear. In TH FI TO IN PH he answers unrelated questions with further questions. Byars strives to liberate conceptual images from their constraints, and so create an openness for the absolute.
This golden pin and toothpick can be seen as symbols of the absolute. Byars likes to work with everyday objects, but places them in a mystical sphere. In other words, he combines earthly matters and spirituality. Against the dark background, the pin and toothpick emerge as mysterious entities, and we can enjoy moments of unexpected perfection in their contemplation. This aspect is something that Byars often strived for: one of his uncompleted projects was for a nail, 333-meters long, which he wanted to place in Berlin. The gigantic work was intended to reach the clouds, but at the same time could be described as a light-ray from the heavens descending down upon us. James Lee Byars' motto "announce the perfect until it happens" can most certainly be applied to these objects as well. With Byars’ toothpick and pin – the latter of which is the smallest object in the M HKA collection – he attempts to make the impossible possible.
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The M HKA’s contemporary art collection has grown thanks to a combination of acquisitions, donations and long-term loans from various public