By Oliver Girling
[…] I talked to Byrne about his recent book, Strange Ritual: Pictures And Words (Chronicle/Raincoast, $35 cloth), and wanted to make connections between his auditory and pictorial works.
OG: I’ve just heard the song you did with Selena which I enjoyed very much.
DB: I thought that came out really well — I was really happy with the way it worked out. It sort of sticks out like a sore thumb on her record. At the time she was going for a crossover, that song sounds more rootsy than the other stuff.
There’s syncopation, a kind of polyphony, with the Spanish song cutting across what you’re singing, that I thought of in connection with some of the images in this book. It’s this idea I’ve also seen in some of your music videos, of playing music against text, against the image. Instead of illustrating it, you’re playing against narrative.
Yeah, or a relationship, but not a direct relationship. The last thing I wanted to see was pictures that refer to themselves. Because they bleed off the page, they seem to be somehow journalistic. You should be able to go inside a bit more easily than when they’re framed.
Are there art or photography practices that you connect with in particular?
There’s a number of photographers…one of the earliest I remember was this California guy, Ed Rushca, who used to take pictures of apartment buildings, gas stations, that sort of stuff, where the aesthetic was more about the choice of what was taken and the inventory than about making beautiful prints.
Obviously you’re connecting to something more like a folk religion than formalist art-making — the pictures hint at a kind of spirituality.
I genuinely find these things sometimes awe-inspiring — whether in a store window or in a religious shrine or altar, or whatever. In the case of my own photos, an object gets pulled into the realm of the sacred one way or another. When an artwork goes into a museum, it goes into this white walled room, a white void. The funny thing is, unless you’re incredibly wealthy and have a huge house so you can also have a big white wall, it’s hard to recreate that same experience–it’s not the same at home. Though I’ve shown my prints in galleries, a lot of this stuff I really felt works best in a book–the accumulation of images, the series.
Could you consider the new book as a kind of performance by the author?
This book and some others are closer to that they are to being a book about something else. There was a guy named Quentin Fiore who did one with Buckminster Fuller and one with Marshall McLuhan in the ‘60s. They had pictures , bits of text — those books were a bit that way as well.
There are almost no people in these pictures.
In True Stories I tried not to get any trees in any of the pictures because they destroyed sometimes the kind of surreal simplicity of a shot or a building; you almost wanted to have the thing floating in space. In a way it’s the same here — people would seem like unwelcome intruders into this world that they’ve made. These things are perfect little shrines, or offerings. Once they’ve been made, the maker’s hand is not important any more. I guess I also feel that these artifacts, this evidence, tells a lot more than a picture of a person would.
Are you showing some of this work in a gallery?
In a couple of weeks I’m having my first gallery show in New York. I’ve had other shows in Europe and in Japan, one in Buenos Aires, but this is the first one where I feel like I’m really under the microscope of the New York art world.
I DARE YOU!
The last seven pictures in Strange Ritual are of other books, which, like Joseph Bueys’ welded-shut cans containing Bergman’s film The Silence, have been transformed by the artist’s re-contextualizing into sculptural artifacts. The titles speak for him. “Ponder On This”, “You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth”, "The Book Of Knowledge”, “The Secret Museum of Mankind”, “How To Do All Things”, “The Truth About Mars” and “I Dare You!”