THE DEATH OF JAMES LEE BYARS // ZAD MOULTAKA IN DIALOGUE
May 10th 2019 - November 24th 2019
The Death of James Lee Byars: Zad Moultaka in Dialogue.
Location: Chiesa di Santa Maria della Visitazione, Fondamenta Zattere ai Gesuati, 30123 Venice. Google maps link.
Opening hours: 10:00 - 18:00, closed Monday.
Curators: Walter Vanhaerents + Vincent Verbist.
Vanhaerents Art Collection presents The Death of James Lee Byars: Zad Moultaka in Dialogue, an official collateral event of the 58. Venice Biennale. It is the second major exhibition from the Vanhaerents Art Collection outside Belgium and takes its title from a key work in the collection: The Death of James Lee Byars.
"I hope that people will experience my way of practicing my own death as something useful for themselves."
- James Lee Byars
The Death of James Lee Byars: Zad Moultaka in Dialogue takes inspiration from the artwork of the same name, which was created in 1994 when James Lee Byars was battling incurable cancer and is arguably one of the artist's most intimate and emotional works. With this installation Byars presents a haunting image of his final resting place: a grand and simple chamber, bare of any everyday ornamentation, but covered in ethereal gold, his most favourite material. The artist himself is wholly absent. Only a bier and five crystals indicate that his body actually every laid there. While it is obvious that the prospect of an imminent death prompted this installation, it is also difficult to ignore The Death of James Lee Byars as the creation of an artist who had been practicing 'an aesthetics of disappearance' all of his life. As various critics have noted, Byars consistently produced works influenced by his own biography and individual experiences, but he was as equally intent on undermining any link with self-portraiture by moving himself out of sight, dissolving into the background or shrouding himself in darkness. In doing so, he enacted what Roland Barthes famously termed 'the death of the author' - a symbolic withdrawal from any authoritative stance, opening his works up to the viewer and a process of free interpretation.
This exhibition allows the public to connect with this remarkable installation by one of the leading performance and installation artists of his generation - an artist who was always compelled by the unknown, the out-of-reach, the ever-fleeting. Standing in front of his arresting golden 'void', visitors can immediately sense the artist's absence on both a physical and emotional level, eliciting ideas about what it means to be alert - to be present in the world (an process the artist commonly referred to as 'IS'). What Byars' installation warrants us then, is to not abide to preconceptions, routine and habitual rules, but instead to engage freely and craft our own individual meanings.
The Death of James Lee Byars: Zad Moultaka in Dialogue not only highlights one of Byars' most iconic installations, it also succinctly reflects upon his artistic legacy and how his investigations on absence continue to impact artists today. In this respect, the Vanhaerents Art Collection has commissioned composer and visual artist Zad Moultaka to create a new audio work specifically for this occasion. Through his interests in the ephemeral, symbolism, rituals, and ancient cultures, Zad Moultaka bears close affinities to James Lee Byars. Much like his American counterpart, the artist creates works that enjoy a strong and arresting presence, aesthetic appeal and conceptual vigour.
In his new installation Vocal Shadows, Zad Moultaka subtly advances on Byars' work and ideas, offering a profound meditation on death as an existential condition, as well as a symbolic generative process with regard to signification. Consisting of 24 loudspeakers, his immersive audio piece evokes a funeral choir, performing their many-voiced requiem serenely but unceasingly in the immediate surroundings of Byars' chamber tomb. As their words and sounds disseminate rhythmically over all of the exhibition space, they combine into ever-changing acoustic and ephemeral patterns.