The Perfect Performance is to Stand Still

A Reply to James Lee Byars


Projection, speaker’s desk, reading lamp, chairs, shaker


The Perfect Performance is to Stand Still

Technical basics
The floor of a room is set into vibration before visitors arrive. A blue surface is projected onto a screen. At the announced starting time, the lights go out; only the speaker’s desk lamp remains lit. Then a text appears in white on the blue background: “THE PERFECT PERFORMANCE IS” (20 sec). There follow the words “TO STAND STILL” (10 sec); at that moment the floor ceases to vibrate. The sequence concludes with the words “A reply to James Lee Byars, 1978” (5.5 sec) and then “© Florian Dombois, 2008” (7.5 sec). House lights on.

Artistic concept
Invited by the Kunstmuseum Bern to develop a performance for the exhibition I am full of Byars, I formulated The Perfect Performance is to Stand Still – a critical reply to the work of the same name by James Lee Byars (1978).
“Because life pulsates, standing still is an act of reflection, of contemplation in a religious or artistic sense, and also an allusion to death. When, as happened in most of his performances, J. L. Byars whispered something barely comprehensible in intervals of just a few seconds, this signified a concentration and consolidation that only unfolded in retrospect. The same was the case when he stood still like a statue, immovable, in a selected spot. F. Dombois sets up his performance The Perfect Performance is… as a homage to Byars. And yet, although he makes use of the same means of brevity and standstill, it is not himself, the actor, who is brought to a halt. Instead, he deploys sophisticated technical equipment to stop what is for the audience the barely perceptible subcutaneous vibration of the museum floor, through the brief projection of the phrase ‘…to stand still’. Physical agitation is hence abruptly replaced by its radical counterpoint – the spirit of stillness. Interestingly enough, Byars and Dombois both attain the same state: in one case the artist represents the act of stopping, and in the other the words inscribed on the blue background show the audience the impact of a pause. […]” (Gerhard J. Lischka)