Byrne: Super Low Tech virtual Reality
by Carol Golemboski
Byrne prefaced his slide presentation by mentioning how much he
enjoys hearing photographers and artists tell stories about their
work. Separating himself from artists that begin with ordinary
subject matter and later transform it into something meaningful,
Byrne stated how he starts with an interesting situation, photographs
it, and enjoys the experience of encountering something new.
shared a collection of hundreds of images that ranged from outhouses,
to rotating Zen gardens, to Barbie advertisements. While projecting
two slides at a time, he discussed his creation process and questioned
the nature of what we call art. He photographs, he
explained, as a way of taking notes. His images were
not designed for individual examination, but rather, intended
to emphasize a larger theme.
showed several categories of slides. He frequently used images
taken in Japan (his own photographs and photographs borrowed from
various texts) to highlight certain ideas. For example, he contrasted
images of Japanese religious shrines with Eastern European window
displays as a commentary on consumerism and culture. He maintained
that window displays, like shrines, now dictate cultural identity
and value in our society. The display designs borrow the same
tactics that are employed in religious shrines as a way to seduce
the viewer and convince us of what is acceptable, believable and
returned to several groups of images to express a fascination
with odd or peculiar found objects and situations. These included
kitchy photographs of Japanese bus stops shaped like melons, artifacts
like the arm of John the Baptist, inspirational type faces on
Taco stands and Pentecostal churches, outlawed South African radios,
sex advertisements in a British phone booth, and images taken
from a Japanese alien museum. In one such series, he showed dozens
of photographs of various surveillance cameras. He noted how our
society has become so accustomed to them that they seem to merge
into the scenery. He noticed that although there seem to be countless
different models of these cameras, one never sees them advertised.
Finally, he added how he never got in trouble for photographing
the cameras and questioned if anybody was really watching.
also discussed finding anonymous art. Images of bubble gum artfully
arranged on a tree trunk, tire sculptures, the plastic covering
of the Brooklyn Museum while under construction, and anonymous
poetry written in concrete emphasized Byrnes questions about
the nature of what we call art. He claimed that there
is something attractive about artwork that doesnt announce
itself. Rather than focusing on a narrow audience in a gallery
setting, this work is directed to the public at large. He finds
art in simple creations such as hotel wash cloths folded in a
deliberate manner (naming this wash cloth origami)
or in the sculpture someone created to control a rain leak in
an airport. This work, he claimed, is more generous and democratic.
In his opinion, it offers something to everyone, and in that way
becomes more of an ideal of what art is supposed to be.
also showed various advertisements, noting how they communicate
meanings, how they entice, and how they often masquerade as art.
He emphasized this point by showing ad campaigns for Barbie, Continental
Airlines, Apple, Nike and other major corporations. These images
he termed advertising that seeps in when you dont
know youre being sold something. He proceeded to show
fashion advertisements that play on fine art photography by using
models that deliberately look bad.
a questions and answer period, Byrne mentioned how there is a
sense that meaning is being removed from photographs because everything
is being purely accepted. In discussing photography in general,
he stated that images should speak for themselves. Whereas some
are solely designed for documentation, he is more fascinated with
photographs that offer something that is slightly askew. Drawn
to imagery that makes one feel and think, he views photography
as a way that recreates the original sensation of encountering
a slightly confusing but delightful situation. When questioned
about combining text with imagery, Byrne stated that the two should
be equal--neither one dominating the other. In this way, the two
function together and the piece of art becomes informed by their
Byrne spoke about how photography can become a tool for prodding
oneself to get to another place. He explained that the slight
confusion in his photographs gives way to a transcendental experience
and that his process of creation is based on spontaneity and intuition.
As a summary, he described his photography as cosmic images
of nothing at all.
by Ellen Shershow
David Byrne spoke, he showed us a huge variety of works. He introduced
his work in a way that is unusual for artists: by explaining that
he feels many artists take the mundane or the boring, and through
their art, make it interesting. Byrne simply photographs what
is already interesting. Along these lines, Byrne included in his
slide lecture photographs he had taken directly out of books,
because they were images he found interesting, not always letting
us the viewer know that this was what he was doing.
all, Byrne's work feels quirky, funny, intellectually sideways.
Byrne seems to very deliberately avoid theoretical ideas, or concepts
that would too directly connect his work to that of high art.
We were shown images that could be categorized as high art, low
art, commercial store window displays, religious icons, commercial
work, fashion, star wars, travel photos, toilets, outhouses, surveillance
cameras, cockroaches, shrines, magazines, etc,. Byrne deliberately
and consistently mixes all these areas together, so that if one
were not paying careful attention, it would become a guessing
game of what context these images originated in. I believe that
this mixing of ideas could easily be misread as naiveté,
that David Byrne is a person who is unaware of the extent to which
he is mixing such a multitude of concepts. However, after seeing
him talk, I feel that Byrne is very aware of his place in the
art world, and of how art in general functions in the West. Byrne
talks of Americans as having a puritanical view of art, a view
that does not want the lines of things to be blurred.
his own work, Byrne says he wants a sense of slight confusion,
being derailed, on uncertain ground-so you have to sort of rethink
everything-it becomes a tool to prod yourself.
of Byrne's photos involved text primarily. For instance, there
were photographs of graffiti on brick or concrete walls. The question
comes up then, of this combination of text and image, of whether
or not this very direct combination works. In answer to this,
Byrne stated that he sees text and image as synonymous with music
and lyrics working in a song. Within a given song, the music and
the lyrics should go together, they should balance each other
question then arises of photographs of found graffiti, and how
this very specific kind of image gets it interest, its power.
Foremost in my mind is this question: Aren't these kinds of images
very directly about class? Dont they gain their intrigue
from the fact that graffiti is the signifier of a bad
or dangerous neighborhood? I feel that the upper
class is both intrigued and repelled by this notion of danger.
Photographic images become a way that a certain upper class
can see into these lower class neighborhoods, without the
supposed danger that would be encountered if one entered them.
When I posed this question Byrne responded that ideally, he would
like to just show the graffiti covered wall itself, without the
intervention of the camera.
I cannot resist touching on Byrne's own undeniable celebrity status.
David Byrne was the only presenter at this seminar who was flooded
at the end of his talk with fellows wanting their picture taken
with him. Considering such, I personally was impressed with the
humble manner in which he presented his work.
music was so intensely wound up within my own adolescent experience,
that I found myself thrilled to spend time with Byrne's photographs,
caught in the fantasy that through such, I might somehow get closer
to Byrne, and hence, to understanding my own confusing Adolescence.
However, I cannot help but question whether Byrne's photographs
would be anywhere near the public eye were it not for his success
in the music business. We all know that we live in a celebrity
obsessed culture. When Andy Warhol created the cliché everybody
in the world is famous for fifteen minutes wasn't he really
touching on a sort of collective fantasy about fame? A fantasy
wherein we all might imagine ourselves, neck and neck with celebrities
such as David Byrne?