Q&A with Gerard Byrne

Irish artist Gerard Byrne is known for film installations that deal with the presentation, manipulation and perception of narratives. For his show at Warwick Arts Centre he’s premiering a new work filmed with one unbroken panning shot in Stockholm’s Biologiska Museet. He talks to Anneka French about location, light and methods of display.

Gerard Byrne, 1/125 of a second, Mead Gallery, 16 January – 12 March 2016. Photograph copyright Francis Ware

Working with live art, film and photography, Gerard Byrne’s research is rooted in the presentation, manipulation and perception of narratives. Widely exhibited internationally, in 2007 the Dublin-born artist represented Ireland in the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007, showing again in the 54th edition in 2011.

Having shown in major bienniales in Gwangju, Sydney, Lyon, Auckland, Kassel and Istanbul, his current exhibition, 1/125 of a second, at the Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, brings together existing works with a new film, Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli – Film inside an image (2015).

Commissioned by the Mead Gallery, Monash University Museum, Melbourne and Moderna Museet, Stockholm, the new work is shot in Stockholm’s Biologiska Museet, the first natural history museum in the world to construct a vast panoramic diorama of taxidermy specimens lit only with natural light.

An unbroken panning shot, 15 minutes long, depicts the lifeless specimens posed in moments of action against painted backdrops, incongruous to the live soundtrack that accompanies Byrne’s projection

How did the Biologiska Museet project begin?
I first visited Biologiska Museet in 2006 and it provided an experience that stayed at the back of my mind. I stumbled into the museum; it’s very under the radar. The diorama is lit only by natural light from the roof and that’s really significant in Stockholm. When I was first there in February or March – I’m pretty sure I was the only person there – it wasn’t dark but it wasn’t bright, and the roof of the museum was covered in snow, creating a very particular light. I’m not trying to mystify it but there was something bizarre going on – light was a palpable player in the experience. This directly informed what I ended up doing. When I made the film, it would have been difficult to synchronise the weather with the exhibition commitments; the snow is only relevant to my initial, concrete experience of the place. Light is a material consideration but the work is not about capturing a particular character of light or whatever.

When did the Mead Gallery become involved?
I was invited by the Mead Gallery to do a new commission, probably five years ago, and I decided Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli – Film inside an image was the project. The Biologiska Museet is of particular interest to Moderna Museet as they’re geographically close. It’s not just a professional convenience – there’s something intrinsically interesting in the gesture of a film about the Biologiska Museet being shown in Moderna Museet [the exhibition will tour there in 2017]. The Biologiska Museet is not physically neglected but it’s underfunded and under-resourced – it’s a spectacle that’s a complete anachronism and as such, it’s hard to generate an audience. The work will hopefully be of benefit, highlighting its significance locally.

Locations play a key role in the other films shown…
There’s a general sensibility or pattern across different projects about recovering value from outmoded situations or things that have been discarded – proposing critical value in the act of salvage. Place is at play in Subject [2009] and New Sexual Lifestyles [2003]. The [Goulding] Summerhouse in the former and the brutalist Leeds University campus in the latter have more significant roles than merely locations. The more specific sense of place is a revelation which is a little bit new to me – its trigger is the new work as it’s so specifically bound to a location …

Published by a-n 15 February 2016. Continue reading the article on a-n.


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