Ambient Notes #9 (Gerard Byrne)

Yesterday I went with J. and R., two friends from Open School, to a Visual Cultures Lecture at the RCA. Gerard Byrne (GB) was speaking about the work A Thing is a Hole in a Thing it is Not.


-I force J. to speed eat an apple before the lecture starts because I feel like an apple is the most disruptive food to eat in a lecture situation.

-The lecture theatre has leatherette seats. They are comfortable, but sweaty.

-According to J., GB has got 'something of the Matthew Barney about him'.

-The room is very well equipped, AV wise. There are eight speakers evenly mounted around the room. There is high quality theatre lighting, plus fluorescent strip lights mounted vertically on the sound proofed walls. (They look "cool"/"stylish".)

-A man and his young daughter sit in front of us eating mini-muffins.

-GB has has a lot of exhibitions - that is the gist of the introduction.

-The man w/ daughter in front pulls out a one litre carton of Tropicana. Him and and the daughter start to drink directly from the carton.

-It feels like the person doing the introduction isn't really that invested in its presentation. It is a long introduction.

-The lights dim, we are expected to clap.

-GB is spotlit, the "stylish" vertical fluorescents dim slightly.

-GB says the lecture might be a bit "non-linear". Some people in the audience look at each other.

-GB says, 'detritus of the mediasphere.'

-It is warm in the lecture theatre, the sweat is flowing freely down my back.

-GB says, 'Brechtian doubling.'

-The daughter is really going for that Tropicana.

-I remove my jumper, but it doesn't help. The sweating is just more present, visible.

-I'm not having a go, but the man really shouldn't be letting the daughter drink all that juice.

-A student looks at the side of another student's face and yawns - more at the student than at the lecture.

-It's just that orange juice is mainly sugar. Just eat an orange! You know what I mean?

-One weird thing about the lighting is that GB looks like he's got a moustache even though he hasn't.

-GB says, 'temporal collapse.'

-I keep having to expend mental energy on remembering that GB doesn't have a moustache.

-GB says, 'dangerously adequate.'

-Another thing about the lighting is that it flickers ever so slightly, as though GB is just about to teleport. 

-Or, maybe, he is a hologram. Like Tupac.

-GB says, 'modularity, repetitiveness, endlessness', 'reclaiming my ancestry, for artists.'

-A film plays, but GB is still on mic - he pours some water from a glass bottle and it is relayed to us via the mic and it is a wonderful sound; close and rounded and soft.

-Like, just give the kid some water and a chocolate bar - that would be better than all this juice.

-GB's films make me really want to smoke.

-The daughter finishes the Tropicana and almost immediately tells her dad that she needs the toilet and wants to leave. They leave.

-GB talks about the resistance of the "minimalist" artists to being categorised as a movement.

-I wonder if the Open School artists will end up being categorised as a movement?

-I wonder if I will be seen as the figurehead of the movement. Who can really say? Probably.

-GB explains the theological idea that the world around us is an indexical image of the Old Testament. 

-People start leaving the lecture. People are always leaving lectures like they didn't realise it was going to be longer than 20 minutes.

-On screen: a picture of Donald Judd reading a Donald Judd book.

-GB says, 'the contemporary situation of temporality.'

-GB says, 'prop-like', 'hollowness', 'theatre'.

-The Q&A starts, the lights gently rise, people stretch and look around the room.

-GB has really enjoyed giving the talk and is really generous to the people asking questions. It's hard not to warm to him as a person. I sometimes wonder how much that has to do with success - like, just people warming to you and thinking you're nice and easy going. Probably a lot.

-Students are kind of beautiful nowadays. When I was a student everyone was a bit of a mess, but these days people are looking great. Or maybe I'm just older and I equate youth with beauty.

-There is a balcony in the lecture theatre that I didn't even realise existed until someone asks a question from it and GB's eyes are drawn up above my head.

-Oh, no. Wait. it wasn't the lights, he does have a moustache.

"The" Olive

I went out to get some food and on my way back into Open School I decided to use the toilet. I normally use the ones on the first floor near our studios, but this toilet - which I hadn't used before - is right next to the back door so it made sense to pop in before I went back upstairs.

As I turned on the tap I realised there was an olive in the sink. A black olive. I noticed it because it was positioned on the plughole, directly under the stream of water that came out of the tap. It wobbled ever so slightly as the water ran over it, and it looked shiny. It gleamed.

I thought, 'that's funny' and for a second I didn't know what to do, but then, obviously, I took the olive out of the sink and put it in the bin.


About half an hour later, Glen came upstairs and knocked on the studio door. He came in and said, 'Has anyone touched The Olive?'

and I said, '"The" Olive?'

And he said, 'Yeah, The Olive in the sink downstairs'

I told him I'd thrown it away and he asked me why, which was confusing. Eventually he asked me if I was going to go out and buy another one and I was like, 'I'm not going out to buy a jar of olives, just to put an olive in the sink of the downstairs toilet.'

And he said, 'The Olive.'

I like Glen, me and him get on, but I've got a lot of work on at the moment, so I told him to get fucked.

He's not one to make an argument so he just left and said 'Well, I'll have to tell Nick.'

Nick is alright too, actually, but he is a bit more senior than Glen and he runs the building. About half an hour later he came upstairs and told me I had to go and buy olives to replace The Olive and I didn't want to get on his bad side so I just went out and did it.

Micro-trauma #2: Dead Pets and Detachable Ears

For me, everything is synecdochal - parts of a thing can stand for the whole of a thing, and the whole of a thing refers to its parts.

In this way, an ethics of negativity can be drawn from tiny moments of local trauma, just as it can from recognisable, large scale crises.

And that's why yesterday, I wandered down to a small, unlovely patch of concrete and haphazardly trimmed greenery called Ufton Gardens to search for evidence of death.

I found the story on the Hackney Post and thought it looked interesting. The picture explains the story quite succinctly, but to summarise: someone had been leaving poisoned meat in Ufton Gardens in an attempt to kill off the local foxes. Unfortunately for local pet owners, two cats and a dog had died from eating the meat. The story didn't say how the fox population had been affected.

According to the story, a man living on Ufton Road had 'openly confessed to setting out poisoned meat, after he caught foxes eating carp from his pond'.

I couldn't find Ufton Gardens on google maps, so I put on my coat and went out to find it. It took two minutes to get there, and after walking around the small patch of concrete and finding no meat and no dead animals, I realised there wasn't much to research. The laminated sign that features in the photo was nowhere to be seen.

From across the road, three teenagers standing outside the off licence watched me with little to no interest as I circled the non-space trying to think what could be gained from being there.

I wanted to speak the man with the carp. I wanted to see where the pets had been buried. I wanted to know what sort of meat was used for bait. This was the location where the meaning of those things converged, but no meaning could be squeezed from this place today.

So I went into the off licence and bought some chocolate.

When I went back into the building, Glen had a trolley full of stuff that he was taking out of an upstairs cupboard and moving into storage.

He showed us a sports bag full of someone's eraser collection.

I have vague memories of school friends who "collected" stuff like this. I collected cereal box toys for a while, in the mistaken belief that they would accrue some material value. I have the box at my parents' house, I never quite manage to throw it out.

We searched through the bag, picking out erasers shaped like vinyl records, animals, a lip balm. Cultural detritus of the lowest order. 

We found this rubber bust of Van Gogh. He was depicted with one ear, but on the wrong side of his head. (He - or Gaugin, according to the latest theories - cut off his left ear, not his right.) It was nice to think of this tiny piece of kitsch interfering with the reception of a historical narrative.

Glen said that he'd seen Van Gogh doll with a detachable ear.

The label says, 'I'm Van Gogh, my ear comes off!', which presumes the British pronunciation of Van Gogh ('goff', rather than 'goh'), if it's meant to rhyme.

At least it's the correct ear.