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>> Portrait Cornelia Parker
>> Gerard Byrne: The world is a stage
>> Annelies Strba: Idyllic Worlds
>> Interview: Yehudit Sasportas

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All the world's a stage
Gerard Byrne's Restagings of the Past

Gerard Byrne's spookily beautiful landscape photographs were only recently purchased for the Deutsche Bank Collection in London. In his works, Byrne investigates how photography, the mass media, and film have influenced the visual culture of the 20th century. To this purpose, he reconstructs stage directions from Existentialist theater pieces, interviews, and podium discussions on the sexual revolution and the Cold War. Ossian Ward talked to him about the fascination for Beckett and Cool Jazz and his preparations for the upcoming Biennale in Venice, where Byrne will be the only Irish artist participating.

Aus der Serie: A Country Road, A Tree, Evening, 2006
Deutsche Bank Collection

An average hedgerow is bathed in dramatic light, an old fence glows golden, and a weather-beaten tree is made monumental by the setting sun behind: Gerard Byrne's ongoing series of landscape photographs, many of which were taken in the country lanes around his hometown of Dublin, are seductive images that draw us into a pastoral, twilit arcadia. Yet any initial beauty found in the photos – the first three of which have been purchased for the Deutsche Bank Collection – is incidental or residual to the artist's original intent. Byrne's aim was to locate what is actually the imaginary setting of Samuel Beckett's most celebrated play, Waiting for Godot, in a "real" place. Act One of the Irish writer's famous minimalist play opens with the simple stage notes that provided Byrne with the title and impetus for his photographic series: A country road, a tree, evening.

A country road, a tree, evening Glencullen,
between Boranaraltry Bridge and Johnnie Fox's, Dublin Mountains, 2006;
Courtesy The Artist and Green on Red Gallery, Dublin
Deutsche Bank Collection

Byrne might say that the hauntingly beautiful results of his hunt for the possible sites of Beckett's inspiration were accidental or even fortuitous. But that would be to ignore his commitment to this project, which has carried on for the past four years. Byrne has painstakingly researched the playwright's early surroundings in the south of County Dublin and the countryside around Roussillon in France, where Beckett made his home during WWII. As the play prescribes, the photographs are taken at dusk and during the winter months, so that there are no leaves on the tree. Byrne also uses bright, artificial lights to bring the key elements into the foreground and in some way mimic the theatrical space of an empty stage, which itself seems to be waiting eternally for the play's performers to appear.

A country road, a tree, evening: the Road to Little Bray,
between Ballyman and Old Connaught, North Wicklow, 2006;
Courtesy The Artist and Green on Red Gallery, Dublin
Deutsche Bank Collection

"Of course it is a nonsensical and impossible task to find an origin," says Byrne of his attempt to locate Beckett's imprecise scene A country road, a tree, evening, "but in exploring how the setting symbolically represents the world, at some level this anchors the drama in reality." He also describes the experience of driving around the smart boarding school in Northwest Ireland that the young Beckett once attended as being like "coming face-to-face with your own ideas."

1984 and beyond, Film- und Performance Installation, 2005
Courtesy The Artist and Green on Red Gallery, Dublin

Byrne's work in photography and in film has always centered on this notion of translating or reconstructing some recent history in a way that sheds new light on established truths or forgotten cultural moments. His 2005 film installation and performance piece, 1984 and beyond, was a restaging of a panel discussion between twelve prominent science fiction writers about the state of the world and its future, originally published across two issues of Playboy magazine in 1963. Byrne's artistic version of the text seems disjointed, not only because he has edited the original discussion and used Dutch actors in place of the American authors, but also because the original is now obscured by the passage of time and by the remoteness of its subject matter. Over forty years have passed since; the debates on the Cold War and speculations over when man might land on the moon now seem obscure. Byrne's "notion of one present encountering another" also adds a layer of uncanny perversity to these culturally and historically reflexive moments, rendering what was once a normal conversation somehow strange and detached.

Hommes à femmes (Michel Debrane), Filmstill, 2004
Courtesy The Artist and Green on Red Gallery, Dublin

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