Gerard Byrne, Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli (Film Inside an Image), 2016, HD video, color, sound, 17 minutes.

Gerard Byrne, Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli (Film Inside an Image), 2016, HD video, color, sound, 17 minutes.

Gerard Byrne

Gerard Byrne, Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli (Film Inside an Image), 2016, HD video, color, sound, 17 minutes.

The ultimate aim of a representation is to be more “real” than what it depicts, so that people desire the image more than the objects it portrays. The insatiable drive toward ever-sharper high definition testifies to this age-old impulse. So does the Biologiska Museet in Stockholm. Constructed in 1893 and designed by the architect Agi Lindegren, it was one of the first museums in Europe to adopt a naturalistic approach to the display of zoological specimens. In one circular room, taxidermied Nordic animals appear in a 360-degree diorama, under natural light, against a backdrop painted by the once-prominent nature painter Bruno Liljefors. The intention was to re-create nature in the city. This synthesis of art, architecture, and science was a great technical feat in its time, but the result is far from the actual experience of nature. One could never get as close as one does in this museum to wild animals without startling them away or perhaps being attacked. Yet the display evokes an idea of Nordic wildlife better and with significantly more ease than the real thing.

Equipped with one of the most powerful recording devices of our time, Irish artist Gerard Byrne entered into this antiquated visual apparatus to document obsolete optical technology with the level of detail only a twenty-first-century machinic eye can achieve. Filmed with a high-definition camera and a Steadicam, and with every shot digitally joined—giving the illusion of a single seamless take in an environment that would not physically allow for it—Byrne’s Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli (Film Inside an Image), 2016, captures the high-tech visual apparatus of yesteryear using today’s advanced technology. The film’s apparent simplicity masks the complex and painstaking process involved in its production, as though to mirror the staged ease with which the taxidermied animals of the museum occupy their most unnatural posthumous habitats. The film is accompanied by a soundtrack composed of ambient field recordings and animal calls taken from databases. Adding naturalistic sound to the silent diorama, the audio is a form of digital enhancement. However, because the animals in the video are so obviously taxidermied, that enhancement in fact points to its own artificiality, creating a Brechtian distancing effect.

In Byrne’s exhibition at Moderna Museet, which consisted of this single piece, the film was projected onto a screen that was part of a large, three-sided architectural structure resembling a Minimalist sculpture by Richard Serra or Robert Morris. This exhibition framework was an acknowledgment of video installation’s root in the durational character (or perhaps what Michael Fried pejoratively called the theatricality) of Minimalism, a subject Byrne explored in his 2010 work A thing is a hole in a thing it is not.

This new piece draws an unmissable parallel between technological obsolescence and biological decay. The diorama, though fairly well maintained even after more than a century, shows evidence of age: faded colors, layers of dust, occasional cobwebs. The sight of such signs in vividly filmed dead animals evokes a sense of melancholy only heightened by the sharpness of digital video. And because this narrative of death and deterioration is framed within a discourse of technological progress (and eventual desuetude) in representation, Byrne’s piece simultaneously addresses the optimistic belief that technology can capture the world and make it legible, and the gothic sense that the present is haunted by the past.

Yuki Higashino