Friday, November 19

Finding Gerard Byrne

Case Study: Loch Ness (Some Possibilities and Problems)
2001-2010 (ongoing) Gerard Byrne (via Auckland Triennial)
Since 2008, I have been searching for documentation of Gerard Byrne's Boston ICA installation of Case Study: Loch Ness (Some Possibilities and Problems). I have really just been stuck trying to find his name, remember when I was there - and almost in bizarre irony to what the exhibit was about - what I had seen - which was originally what haunted me.
Installation View: Case Study: Loch Ness (Some Possibilities and Problems)
2001-2010 (ongoing) Gerard Byrne (via Auckland Triennial)

Case Study has been one of the only installations I've seen that completely swallowed me up then piece by piece revealed it's intentions. It didn't have a clever aftertaste. And unlike how I feel about a lot of installation art, it used all of it's components (photography, found sculpture, multimedia elements) convincingly - that is to say, it couldn't have been executed any other way. The piece has been building since 2001. Greg Cook, of the Boston Phoenix described it as:
...a playful conceptual-art riff on the Loch Ness Monster mystery. The installation comprises a slide-show, a grainy silent film, audio of a guy reading what seem to be accounts of sightings of Nessie, text summaries of "sightings" pasted to a wall, and a tree stump. But mostly it's black-and-white photos depicting a strange ripple on the lake, driftwood, a swimmer's arm breaking through the water - all things that might be mistaken for a monster if you were so inclined
The Loch Ness legend is well known. There has never been any true evidence of the monster's existence. But Byrne is not so much interested in presenting the legend to us, so much as he's trying to provoke us with questions that Cook suggests: "How do we see? How do we trick ourselves into seeing things that might not be there?". Or as Nicholas Baume, Chief Curator at the ICA, describes, "he plays with our sense of period and context, fashioning his work so that we can never be exactly sure of what we are seeing."

Case Study: Loch Ness (Some Possibilities and Problems)
2001-20010 (ongoing) Gerard Byrne (via ICA)
Byrne's Case Study and his installations expose the inconsistencies with the devices we use to communicate what we know - or think we know - to each other. His art exposes the "treachery of language".

Installation View: Case Study: Loch Ness  
(Some Possibilities and Problems) 2001-2010
(ongoing) Gerard Byrne (via Auckland Triennial)
I think what made Case Study so disarming for me was the use of common mediums telling a familiar story. With very little color appearing in a few photographs, the overall presentation is black-and-white, clinical or secretive. There were some framed typed stories. In the center, was a 16-millimeter camera aimed at the side of a pedestal. The film zeros in on scenes around the lake and unintelligible conversations. There are headphones where you can hear some of these stories being mixed and retold. Off to the side was a dry large stump with much of its roots. I can't recall if the stump had geographic significance, but it adds a tactile, scientific reality to the display. Overall you begin to feel how real or tangible this story is - and how real the idea of it is. But all the while you still haven't seen the monster.

My favorite part of the installation, or perhaps what was the kicker for me, were the lumped 15 black-and-white framed photographs arranged in a sideways pyramid. Images of blurry close-ups and unintelligible long shots of the lake juxtaposed with clear depictions of the shore, a stump or objects in the water. The arrangement caused me to question what I was looking at even though it was directly in front of me.

Byrne's Loch Ness playfully builds up a legend and then leaves you standing in the middle of an assortment of hand-me-down evidence but unable to trust any of it. And this questioning has haunted me ever since.

UPDATE: An interview with Byrne here about this work, posted on occasion of his Milton Keynes installation.

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