[Re]readings of the perfect. Mysticism of James Lee Byars
Mancebo Roca, Juan Agustín
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The complex contextualization of the work of James Lee Byars (1932–1997) in contemporary artistic practices was determined by its timelessness in both form and concept. Considered by Kevin Power as one of the key artists of the second half of the twentieth century alongside figures such as Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol, his legacy seems to have declined probably because of the discomfort caused by the approach to his work, since any previous consideration and attempt at cataloging, escapes through the loopholes on which they are based. Byars’ performances and pieces were mostly structured around the cryptic concept of perfection. The artist’s mission, in this case, takes on the roles of a shaman and a magician who questions the illegibility of a world whose materialism seems to have expelled any consideration of the sacred, thus articulating a work that, far from providing answers, raises questions about the ultimate meaning of life. Gold, geometry, time (and its transience), space (re-signified by his cultural heritage), language and the body expressed a proposal in which installations and actions are the instruments he uses primarily to question us about the big questions. Byars in this sense has been considered a mystic, since he places us at the doors of a new perception to make us uncomfortable and provoke us, to transmit us the questions about being in the world. This article is modulated on the poetics of the work, thought and actions of James Lee Byars, one of the few contemporary artists who can be defined as mystic in the broad sense of the word and for whom the sacred, contrary to the current of unidirectional thought, is inherent to the contemporary subject.