A Meditation on James Lee Byars and the Number Ten
"Question was an open interrogative stance toward the universe,
This is a small meditation on James Lee Byars
And the number ten
1+2+3+4 = 10
It begins with a trip to the Whitney Museum
To see the Bill Viola piece on the second floor
Five Angels for the New Millennium
I’m there with Jon
I’d planned on recording our conversation about the work
One plus one is the seed of dialectic
But there are fifty people crammed in there
Watching the angels
Five angels owned by three museums
On two continents
We escape to the adjacent gallery where 300 red glass spheres are
Arranged in spiraling arms on a white paper floor
My heart breaks
James Lee Byars: Perfect Silence
One is a point.
300 Perfect hand blown spheres.
“Pomegranate Seeds” I think, and my mouth waters
In the next room - black ink.
Then white marble in glass vitrines
Then a gold chamber.
The gold leaf squares flutter in the breeze of the ventilation.
I crush a piece into my thumb.
In discussions of James Lee Byars the words “shaman” and “show man” spring up a lot.
He’s frequently compared to Joseph Beuys whom he’s been photographed with.
He’s performed his own death when he was alive. He wore a gold lame suit.
He made geometric marble objects which in their Jungian simplicity bring to mind Lucky Charms.
So let’s count where we are.
One is Viola who I came to see.
Two is Byars next door.
Three is Jennifer Pastor who’s still alive.
Living in California even.
Her work in the ground floor gallery consists of three pieces called
The Perfect Ride
An ear, a dam, a rodeo.
Model, sculpture, animation
As remembered, as dreamed, as rendered
Holy, Holy, Holy.
If you connect the three artists' work
You get a triangle that slices diagonally through the Whitney
Arranged on a white paper floor
Counting out pomegranate seeds. Rolling them in my mouth,
One is a point
Two is a line
Three is a plane, a shape
So who knows four?
If four is time, I make four a memory
Four is my friend Meg’s tattoo
Before we got to know each other,
Meg and I took a class with Thomas McEvilley called Art and the Mind
We both remember the phrase “puer aeternus” from that class.
In the dark auditorium, McEvilley talked about Joseph Beuys, cans of shit and gold as representation of eternity.
A few years ago, he wrote an essay about James Lee Byars
for his posthumous retrospective in Spain.
About how Perfect answers Question
And how 1+2+3+4 =10
Meg wants a tattoo of a skull rising out of a jar
With the word PERFECT
In gothic lettering, of course
But there is no tattoo,
Just the idea
So it remains
And Meg’s inscribed her own triangle
In two years
From Houston to San Diego to New York
So one is Whitney
A point for departure
Two is Meg’s Quest
Transcribed potential as dialogue
Three is this text,
Sullied in its creation – hovering now in near completion.
This moment as it’s happening makes four.
Jonathan Caouette's art-house smash
In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart
Whatever it Takes
The Merchant of Venice and the New Ruling Class
James Lee Byars & the number Ten
Two Incidents at the Café Kamienica
Jacob said to an angel, Tell me your Name
Our 610 Back Pages
The I-Thou Circus
February 10, 2005
Zeek in Print
Fall/Winter 2004 issue now on sale
From previous issues:
Primal Scream Judaism
Straight Eye for the Consumer Guy
This Land was Your Land