Kerlin Gallery is delighted to present
Beasts by Gerard Byrne.
'Beasts', a series of black-and-white, silver gelatin photographs was shot inside the Biologiska museet, Stockholm, a museum which housed a 360-degree diorama depicting a panoramic sweep of the Nordic wilderness, in an elaborate mise-en-scène combining taxidermy with a painted backdrop. The museum remained almost unchanged between 1893 and its unexpected closure midway through Byrne’s production, in 2017.
The artist’s interest in the museum was first inspired by the peculiar visual appearance of the diorama, which is illuminated solely by natural light entering from roof skylights. For Byrne, this dependence on daylight blurred the distinction between museum and camera. With its skylights functioning as lens aperture and its diorama of taxidermy animals poised in frozen photographic stasis, the Biologiska Museet appeared proto-photographic, it’s diorama a foreshadow of the Photograph itself. 'Beasts' is testament to in-animation; each print pictures the carefully poised relationship between photography and deadness.
Byrne also made a film inside the diorama, 'Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli' (Film Inside an Image) 2015-2016. Presented as a Single Channel film and back projected onto a sculptural environment the work is played on a continuous loop. Byrne’s film takes us on a sweeping, never-ending journey though the 360 degree diorama of the Biologiska museet in Stockholm. The unsettling experience is amplified by the accompanying sound track, a multi-layerd cacophony of animal calls, bird songs and various other sounds of the wild.
'Beasts' and 'Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli' (Film Inside an Image) invite us in and around the impossible scene of arrested Nordic wilderness, lit only by limited natural light to ponder such photographic attributes as stasis itself, seamlessness, dust, and the shifting historical contingencies that determine what is a photograph at a given cultural moment. (10 minute segment of work below)
This portfolio of photographs was shot in the Biologiska museet, Stockholm, on 23 and 24 August 2017. I had already spent quite a bit of time at the museum over the previous two or three years, preparing for, and making a film of sorts, entitled Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli, which roughly translates from southern Sami as a film inside an image. Indeed, the film was already being shown at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm when I returned that August. The previous April, on the afternoon of its scheduled exhibition opening at the Moderna, a man in a truck ploughed through shoppers outside the Åhlens department store in central Stockholm, leaving fatalities and many injuries. The city went into lockdown. The exhibition opening was of course cancelled.
Along with the museum staff, I was stuck at the museum, which is in the city centre, but on a small island. We gathered in the museum cafe, sharing limited information on the attack, and the subsequent lockdown. Among those stranded at the cafe was the curator of the photography collection at the Moderna Museet, Anna Tellgren. We talked. She had curated an exhibition of beautiful 19th century photographs coinciding with the presentation of my film about the Biologiska museet. Both our exhibitions, related to 19th century proto-photography, were overwhelmed by the alarming current events, leaving us all marooned, in time as well as space on Skeppsholmen island.
In the months between April and my return in late August, much had unexpectedly changed at the Biologiska museet to concentrate my interest in taking photographs there. Lars Erik Larsson, the long-serving director of the museum, had reached retirement age, and was due to retire at the end of August. At the same time the owners of the museum, the organisation behind the hugely popular Skansen folk park, had announced that the dusty diorama would close “for indefinite renovation” upon Lars Erik’s retirement. The announcement was greeted with public debate and some scepticism in the Swedish media, and I was interviewed on the Swedish radio channel P1 for my thoughts on my film and the value of the Biologiska museet generally.
So when I returned on 22 August it was under the shadow of the museum’s imminent closure after 124 years. I arrived armed with two brand new 50-sheet boxes of Kodak sheet film, and some specific ideas about the possible photographs the museum could yield. What I didn’t reckon with was the increasing fallibility of film manufacture and distribution systems in 2017. In my hotel room, I placed the film boxes, and the film cartridges used to hold sheet film inside a light-proof changing bag. When I put my hands into the sleeves of the bag to blindly load the film, I was shocked to feel that the sheets of new film were stuck together – welded together, like an irregular brick, inside the sealed yellow Kodak box. I desperately peeled the sheets of film apart as carefully as I could, and over the next 48 hours I shot as much damaged film as daylight would allow. The museum closed within days.
Later I found a specialist to work with on developing the film, in the hope of salvaging what I could of the material. I sent him the film and corresponded by email, about establishing an approach to the fragile material. I tried to contact Kodak for technical advice, but “Kodak” now appears to exist largely as a brand name for a licence – a piece of “intellectual property” and a bunch of 1-800 numbers and web links which lead me nowhere. A yellow mirage of what was. I never managed to reach anyone with any technical knowledge of film. And as this was happening, I also noted that dispatches with my film processing guy were difficult – his developing machine kept breaking down, and parts were hard to find, he seemed to be struggling more generally. Sometimes I wouldn’t hear from him in weeks. The museum had closed. Months had passed and I hadn’t seen anything. There was no possibility of a re-shoot.
My film processing guy did manage to salvage as much of the film as possible. I was left with a modest pool of negatives, all of which bore the marks of the increasingly inhospitable conditions of their production. I had set out with the premise that the Biologiska museet itself was a building-sized camera, and that my photographs would duplicate images in formation in the diorama since 1893. Increasingly it now seems that historical conditions superseded my initial premise, and my own photographs likewise succumbed to the same condition of anachronism of the Biologiska museet itself. The plight of my film reminded me of some extraordinary photographs in Anna Tellgren’s exhibition – Nils Strindberg’s photographs of the 1897 Andrée balloon expedition to the Arctic. Everyone perished on that ill-conceived expedition, including the photographer. Strindberg’s frozen film was found decades later and developed to reveal a chronicle of their own extinction.
As if, just as there was a time before analogue photography was possible, a proto-moment, so there most also be a time after its possibility. To paraphrase the 19th century, this is what remains.
1 January 2019
'Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli'
(Film Inside an Image)
In 2015, prior to ‘Beasts’ Gerard Byrne shot 'Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli' (Film inside an image) on location at the Biologiska Museet in Stockholm.
Presented as a Single Channel film and back projected onto a sculptural environment the work is played on a continuous loop. Byrne’s film takes us on a sweeping, never-ending journey though the 360 degree diorama of the Biologiska Museet. This moving image invites us in and around a static and impossible scene of arrested Nordic wilderness, lit only by natural light. The unsettling experience is amplified by the accompanying sound track, a multi-layered cacophony of animal calls, bird songs and various other sounds of the wild.
The work commissioned by and shown at the Mead Gallery, University of Warwick, Coventry; Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne and Moderna Museet in Stockholm.
In 2019 'Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli' and 'Beasts' were shown as part of the artist's solo show 'Gerard Byrne, Upon all the living and the dead' at Secession in Vienna, Austria.
Gerard Byrne: 1/125 of a second
Mead Gallery, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK.
Gerard Byrne: Life inside an image
Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne.
below, installation view:
'Gerard Byrne, Upon all the living and the dead'
Secession, Vienna, Austria.
b. 1969, Dublin, Ireland.
Working primarily with lens-based media, Gerard Byrne has established an international reputation for his creation of complex film installations that interrogate how the past is presented to us. Exploring the paradoxes of visual information Byrne often draws upon mass media, popular culture and literature, from British tabloid newspapers to the High Modernism of Beckett. His work draws our attention to the construction, transmission and interpretation of text and images, highlighting the impermanence of meaning. Marked by a deadpan sense of humour, his investigations of contemporary cultural phenomena have often seen him return to such diverse topics as the Loch Ness Monster, American radio, the legacy of the Minimalist Movement, and the culture of men’s popular magazines.
Recent exhibitions include Centraal Museum Utrecht (2020); In Our Time, Serlachius Museum Gosta, Finland (2019) ; A Visibility Matrix, Void, Derry, Northern Ireland (2019), Le Printemps de Septembre, Toulouse, France and Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, Ireland (both 2018); Upon all the living and the dead, Secession, Vienna (2019); Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli – Film Inside an Image, Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2017); ACCA, Melbourne, Australia; Mead Gallery, UK (both 2016); Graz Museum, Austria; Kunstmuseum St Gallen, Switzerland (both 2015); Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland; The Whitechapel Gallery, London (both 2013); Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon (2012); IMMA, Dublin; Milton Keynes Gallery; The Renaissance Society, Chicago (all 2011); Lismore Castle Arts (2010); Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen (2008); Dusseldorf Kunstverein; Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius (both 2007); MUMOK, Vienna (2006); BAK, Utrecht (2004); Frankfurter Kunstverein (2003).
In 2007, Byrne represented Ireland at the 52nd Venice Biennale. He has participated in Busan Biennale (2020); Skulptur Projekte Münster (2017); dOCUMENTA 13 (2012); Performa, New York (2011); the 54th Venice Biennale (2011); Auckland Biennial (2010); Gwangju Biennial (2008); Sydney Biennial (2008); Lyon Biennial (2007); Tate Triennial (2006) and the Istanbul Biennale (2003).