James Bayard’s Adventures in Street Art
On select steamy nights this summer, you can find artist James Bayard wielding a brush loaded with wheat paste, affixing his latest work to construction barricades around New York City. “It’s nerve-wracking because we never know if we’re going to get stopped. You’re not really supposed to be doing it and sometimes people on the street give you a hard time. Sometimes people take them seconds after they’ve been put up because they want to keep them. We’re trying to keep them up, but we also expected things like this to happen,” says Bayard.
In conjunction with Chiori Miyagawa’s play I Came to Look for You on Tuesday, which will premiere at La Mama, E.T.C. in September 2013, Bayard designed and printed six different poster-sized works. They are going up, guerrilla-style, in four different locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn at roughly two-week intervals all summer. The text on each image is taken from the play or from salons Miyagawa held last spring, where each participant told a personal story of reunion.
For this project, Bayard has decided to embrace the ephemerality of performance, and intersect it with his own artistic practice. “I have different expectations about how long the work should be up, because that timeline is dictated by how other people respond to it. It’s like tagging: the next day the work might be tagged over again right away. This is what street art is like; there are no rules.”
The four posting locations have mostly stayed the same throughout the first eight weeks, although the Lower East Side location had to be moved twice: once the construction barriers that serve as gallery walls came down between hangings, and another time Bayard and the small hanging team were screamed at by some locals.
Bayard explains, “I went in knowing this is where the prints were going, so I made certain choices. They weren’t designed for a gallery. People only see certain things on the street, and that influenced the whole visual aesthetic. I chose text that was short and could make an impact.” The prints that have gone up so far have included: “You Have to Get Along Without Me,” “We Were Discon-nected,” and “I’d Like to Remember That.”
He calls his process simple. “The materials get laid out on a scanner bed in layers. First I place the hand-cut text upside down and backwards. Because the text is carved, it casts its own shadow so you get an incredible range of depth. The text is richer and crisper than you could get with a regular font. Then I layer in saran wrap, which you can see in the finished product, then a natural material, something I could find near the studio. I’ve used sand, rocks, bark, and sea grass.”
Just like performance is susceptible to chance and accident, Bayard’s process of layering welcomes unanticipated outcomes: “By compressing the elements of the poster image itself into a single scan, things are liable to shift and change as the layers are added, which creates a larger conceptual aspect to the language being used. I wanted the natural elements to reclaim the language.” That is, the appropriated dialogue (from the salons and play itself) succumb to elemental factors. The language becomes subsumed.
Born in Wilmington, Delaware, and a graduate of Bard College now living in New York City, Bayard most often works in video and sculpture, but almost all his work includes text. He’s found that “language is a way to reach audiences faster, even faster than with an image. Even though it has its difficulties, people are drawn to text.” Text in Bayard’s work often disappears over time. In one recent piece, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” these iconic words are displayed in graphite, a material that resists permanence, while their answering lyric “but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need” are rendered on an opposite panel. In order to see both, the viewer must walk between the panels, smudging the graphite, and in the words of the artist, “changing [the words] forever.”
In other pieces, language changes the viewer’s experience of the world, and makes the viewer part of the art work, as in “Fag Frames” from 2012: a pair of sunglasses cut to spell “FAG” in polarized Plexiglas. “Language is slippery in general,” says Bayard, “and everything—the font, how it’s rendered, the phrasing—all influence the way the text is read.”
The notion of the fragment is central to Bayard’s work, a counterpoint to his interest in words, which can seem all too certain. “The fragment leaves it open-ended for the viewer. When an idea is complete, it’s ‘finished’ in a way that makes the work more about understanding what the artist meant. With a fragment, the viewer feels more free. They might say, ‘I don’t get what the artist intended, but this is how I read it.’ You’re more likely to spend time with the work and really engage with it.”
This is Bayard’s first foray into collaborating with a theatre artist. “Chiori and I come from different worlds, but we have found a way to work together. I understand performance at its core really loosely, but this whole process feels like it is part of her piece. Performance is just a process-based way of making art.”
Bayard doesn’t find it difficult at all to think about this work ending up on someone’s living room wall or under a street sweeper. The payoff, this time around, is larger than personal recognition. “It’s a much more democratic, more accessible way to show art. Anyone can go into a gallery, sure, but not everyone does. This work is for the people.”
Current posting locations:
3rd Ave. and 13th St.
Rivington St. and the Bowery
57th St. and 9th Ave.
Bedford Ave. and North 7th Street, Williamsburg
Remaining posting dates:
I CAME TO LOOK FOR YOU ON TUESDAY will be presented at La Mama’s First Floor Theater September 26–October 13, 2013. Tickets will go on sale in mid-August. For more information please contact the La Mama box office at 212-475-7710.