The Shadow of an Extraterrestrial Man/The Antwerp Giant

James Lee Byars


Installation, 17 x 245 m.
Materials: black tulle

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. S0096).

James Lee Byars was intensely occupied with raising philosophical questions and addressing them in his work, but without ever providing any pat answers. In works such as Extra Terrestrial, also known as The Antwerp Giant, he does however provide viewers with a few suggestions. This piece is inspired by the Antwerp folk-legend, the giant called Lange Wapper. Byars represents him as an endlessly long, primitive human figure in black tulle. In something of a ritual during the opening of his 1976 exhibition at Antwerp’s Internationaal Cultureel Centrum, he had those present help unfurl the transparent dark figure on the Meir (the adjacent thoroughfare). W. Van Mulders described this act as a procession where the participating public warily unfolded the black tulle like an immense reliquary. Afterwards, the giant was included in the ‘inside’ exhibition as an airy black mass. The act of unfolding, in the presence of the public, was essential for Byars. It was only during this act that the ‘Antwerp Giant’ really became present again. Once back in the exhibition, the viewer is again consigned to a certain distance, and what remains is a pile of black tulle. Byars was fascinated by paradoxes: the giant versus a mass of black cloth, the material quality of the tulle versus the immateriality of the Lange Wapper folk-figure. The artist admired enduring continuity and immutability, but his works tended to go ‘lost’ (among other reasons, due to the fragility of materials used) or remain to us only as fragments of their former selves.

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