Fotograf Magazine

Lisa Byrne

Lisa Byrne’s simultaneous perspectives

Reminiscent of Edward Muybridge’s scientific photographs of men, women and animals in motion, Lisa Byrne’s Simultaneous Perspectives has an initial experimental feel to it. The photographs of staggered figures trace the image of the body through time. Pin-pointing the respective positions of two figures at different instants, the photographs read like a mathematical graph. Yet, the photographic analysis, in this case, does not seem to be concerned with producing measurable results. In fact, information is being obscured rather than revealed. Knowingly, Byrne remarks, “In a photographic framework the object in movement, over a long exposure, creates a blur. The blurry photograph causes a failure in the copy because it no longer resembles the object.”[ref]Lisa Byrne, Reference Book: 2007 Photographic Practice, Royal College of Art, London, 2007[/ref]

The inability of the blur to replicate reality renders these images ‘unscientific’. The blur created by the continuous exposure of the pinhole camera reduces multiple perspectives to a complete absence of perspective. Certainly, the images are disorientating and the darkness, in the absence of any detail surrounding the central figures, removes these images from reality furthermore. Far from being scientific the images try to analyse precisely that which science cannot measure. The images don’t attempt to describe the workings of the human body, rather, to shed light on the inner body, the psychological body or spirit. In her own words, Byrne hints that the reasoning behind her method is to pursue “recognition of an internal state, through a persistence of exposure.” [ref]Lisa Byrne, Simultaneous Perspectives, Artist’s Statement, 2007[/ref]  The bodies, ghostlike diaphanous shells, seemingly emptied of their entrails, fluid and floating, are set against a dense weighty blackness. A cosmic void that sees the glowing bodies become the brightest stars in the system.

There is something surprisingly sculptural about Byrne’s photography. The pinhole creates a layering of information comparable to the building up of clay or metal to create a form, each layer working with the next to create an illusion of time and 3-D space in constant expansion.

Anthony Gormley is a sculptor who investigates the body’s relation to space. In Feeling Material, a project in which the artist attempts to represent the different forces in interaction with the human body, he explains that his sculptural pursuit is to “make the internal space of the body visible as a void … as a still place at the centre of a spiraling energy field.” [ref]Anthony Gormley, Feeling Material, Artist’s Statement,[/ref] Like Gormley’s project Feeling Material, Byrne’s images empty the body of its materiality, almost turning the body inside out. The bodies become a receptacle for the passing of time, while the blackness that surrounds them becomes a projection of an inner void, an inner psychology.

In the same way, sculptor Anish Kapoor, describing the ideas behind a series entitled, simply, Void, also talks about this relationship between inner body and outer body. For him it is the “non-space” or void within the body that represents inner-knowledge, remarking that, “Void is really a state within (…) There is nothing so black as the black within. No blackness is as black as that.”[ref]Anish Kapoor, The Turner Prize, Ed. Virginia Button, Tate Publishing, London, 2007[/ref]  For Byrne, as for Kapoor I would argue that this blackness or void is a metaphor for the unconscious.

The spiritual aspects of these images take on an almost religious dimension in Simultaneous Perspectives Set 1. The naked bodies, elevated and laid out onto a white sheet are like an offering to the Gods. The bed becomes an altar and a celestial light, flooding in, like from the windows of a church, interrupts the darkness of the room. While time passes in the glowing centre of the images, stillness remains in the pitch-black surroundings of the ‘altar’.

In the inspiration for her work, Byrne quotes Simone Weil extensively. Weil was a French philosopher who grew increasingly religious towards the end of her life. According to Weil, “It is the void in our sensibility which carries us beyond sensibility.”[ref]Simone Weil, Trans. Emma Craufurd, Gravity and Grace, Routledge, London, 1952[/ref]

Looking at these images and with this in mind, I am reminded of one of Byrne’s previous pieces of 2005, Holy Mount. Also shot on pinhole, it depicts a looming church façade, indicative of the artist’s fraught relationship with her subject matter. I cannot help but see in Simultaneous Perspectives a theological interrogation but beyond this there is an existential question about the communion of body and mind, the unity of yin and yang.

If the light in these photographs represents motion, beauty, love and all that it is to be alive, the blackness represents the dark waters of the unconscious.

Marie-France Kittler[ref]Marie-France Kittler is an artist and theorist based in London.[/ref]