– Spring 2008

You See? Gerard Byrne's Reconstructions

Bettina Funcke

1984 and Beyond, 2005-2007, three single channel DVDs on LCD screen and a set of 20 black-and-white photographs, production still. Courtesy of the artist.

1984 and Beyond, 2005-2007, three single channel DVDs on LCD screen and a set of 20 black-and-white photographs, production still. Courtesy of the artist.


Error and Progress

If one thinks only of oneself, it is impossible to believe that one commits any errors and so one gets nowhere. That it [sic] is why it is necessary to think of the others who will carry on the work. Only in this way does one prevent something being completed.

- Bertolt Brecht1

'Error and Progress', printed above in its entirety, is one of the 87 Stories of Mr. Keuner that Brecht published in various magazines and anthologies from the 1920s through the 1950s under titles such as 'Organisation', 'The Right to Weakness', 'Hospitality', 'Success', 'Mr. K. and the Cats', 'On Friendliness', 'Architecture' and 'On Having a Stance'. Walter Benjamin was almost the only contemporary to take notice. He interpreted the name 'Keuner' as Keiner ', German for 'no one', and 'Koiné'', Greek for 'colloquial speech' or that which is understandable to all'.2 Mr. Keuner then is a person without particular characteristics, and Brecht used him like a mouthpiece, referring to him as 'the thinking one' through whom he offered parables, aphorisms and anecdotes to comment on a wide variety of subjects. Implicitly they correct a mistaken opinion, an all-too-comprehensible popular misconception. This aim to relate parable-like narratives on common topics is shared by the Irish artist Gerard Byrne, who works in film, video, photography and installation. While preparing

  1. Bertolt Brecht, 'Error and Progress', Stories of Mr. Keuner (trans. Martin Chalmers), San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2001, p.60.

  2. Walter Benjamin, Understanding Brecht (trans. Anna Bostock), New York and London: Verso, 1998, pp.5, 28 and 68-69.

  3. At greatest length in George Baker, 'The Storyteller: Notes on the Work of Gerard Byrne', in Vanessa Joan Müller (ed.), Gerard Byrne: Books, Magazines, and Newspapers, New York and Berlin: Lukas & Sternberg, 2003, pp.7-88.

  4. Gerard Byrne, email to the author, September 2007. All quotations by Byrne without reference are taken from this email exchange.

  5. Gerard Byrne in an interview originally published in Untitled, no.32, Summer 2004, available online at http://www.extracity.org/dedicated/dedicated_byrne.htm (last accessed on 5 September 2007).

  6. Fredric Jameson, Brecht and Method, London and New York: Verso, 1998, pp.109-10.

  7. Ibid., p.110.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Lytle Shaw, 'The Utopian Past', in The Present Tense Through the Ages: On the Recent Work of Gerard Byrne, London: Koenig Books, 2007, p.122.

  10. Byrne, quoted in Catherine Wood, 'Two-Way Theatre', in The Present Tense Through the Ages, op. cit., p.73.

  11. Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematographer (trans. Jonathan Griffin), Copenhagen: Green Integer, 1997, p.109.

  12. Youssef Ishaghpour, in Jean-Luc Godard and Y. Ishaghpour, Cinema: The Archaeology of Film and the Memory of Culture (trans. John Howe), New York: Berg, 2005, p.20.

  13. Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, London and New York: Verso, 2005, p.151.