Monday, April 16, 2012

James Lee Byars at Shokokuji

The James Byars installation at Shokokuji took place in 1963. Maybe in September. I received an invitation a few days beforehand which was just a screwed up piece of paper pushed into the letter box. It was a test of curiosity – either you discarded it immediately or unwrapped it and read the message. It just gave the day (a Monday), time (11.30pm) and place (Hondo – the main hall) of Shokokuji, a large Buddhist temple. That was all.
When I reached Shokokuji there were already a number of people waiting – mainly Japanese but a few foreigners. It was pitch dark and we wandered about for half an hour bumping into one another. Eventually an enormous black 1920s Buick drew up and out stepped James Lee Byars and his Japanese girlfriend Miss Taki, both dressed in black. James was wearing a black suit plus black top hat and she was wearing a beautiful ruched black silk dress that belled out from the waist. I think it was by Givenchy but second hand.
By this time the audience had become restless and there were some boos and other jibes.
Inside the Hondo a small naked light bulb was switched on and the performance art began. Slowly and carefully Miss Taki unfolded attached meter square sheets of handmade paper into a long serpentine strip to make a low wall. Once the whole pile was exhausted, and after a short pause for effect, she laboriously folded them back into a cube. Throughout this procedure James and Miss Taki remained silent and then walked slowly back to the limousine. Just before they were driven off, Byars stood on the running board and shouted over the abuse:

"This is to teach you patience, perseverance and an appreciation of art."

The car door was closed and James and Miss Taki disappeared into the night.

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