Installation / performance, de Appel Center for Contemporary Art, Amsterdam (NL); Kapinos Galerie, Berlin (DE); Magnus Mueller Galerie, Berlin (DE); Arsenal, Lausanne (CH); BBB Centre d'Art, Toulouse (FR)
Various sculptural objects, charcoal drawings, fanzine, DVD, sound edition, P.I.M.D.W. performances with various Black Metal bands, poster editions

The Ghost of James Lee Byars Calling fuses the work of the internationally renowned performance and conceptual artist, James Lee Byars (1932-1997) with the underground realm of Black Metal music. Byars's dramatic flair and unconditional pursuit of "the essential" in form and concept parallel the dark theatricality of Black Metal and its characteristic idolization of pagan myths, satanism, violence and destruction. The project coincides with a recent discovery in the archives of de Appel: a large number of "official" letters and personal notes sent by James Lee Byars to Wies Smals, founder of de Appel, during the 1970s.

The title, The Ghost of James Lee Byars Calling, is taken from an exhibition by Byars in Los Angeles (1969). Byars was obsessed by his own mortality, which filters through in the minimal and ephemeral quality of his performances and installations. While enveloping the viewer in the utterly black atmosphere of nothingness, Smith's installation oscillates between Byars lyrical minimalism and the exaggerated gestures of Metal. Smith asked the Swedish Black Metal band Blodsrit to recreate a sound work by Byars, Perfect is My Death Word, during a concert in Berlin. A recording of this performance is part of the installation.

More than paying homage to Byars, the work is an invocation of cultural obsession with blackness and the staging of death. Byars's fascination with his own death was always a philosophical pursuit; the absence and transcendence communicated in his work were devoid of any notion of spiritual redemption. Preaching negation, Black Metal proclaims an outright rejection of Christian salvation with its celebrations of the demonic. The pairing does suggest a certain tongue-in-cheek stance towards the artist as shaman. Smith's work, however, is able to maintain this irony without discrediting the validity of a cultural drive towards death, although pop does seem to prevail. Byars talks of the perfect death, while the Black Metal icons Darkthrone scream: "Total Death." Byars's ghost may be calling, but Metal lives...(Laura Schleussner)











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