January 19, 2012
A beatnik and a gentleman, BRION GYSIN (John Clifford Brian Gysin) (1916-1986) was a true Renaissance man, a tireless experimenter in art, literature, music, performance, technology, and ideas. Expelled from the Surrealism Group at age 19 by no less a figure than André Breton, Gysin fought in WWII, earned one of the first Fulbright Fellowships (to study slavery), and made his home in Tangier and Paris, meeting everyone who was anyone along the way, and often promoting them as well. Gysin is perhaps best unknown for the cut-up technique in literature. The technique, most famously associated with William S. Burroughs, was independently re-discovered (after the Dadaists) by Gysin, who then shared it with Burroughs, assisting and encouraging the latter in his experimental fiction. And they collaborated: their epic The Third Mind is an encyclopedic apotheosis of Beat philosophy. As much visual installation as remixed literature, it was decreed, in the pre-blog era, to be unpublishable. It remains in fact unpublished. A tiny sliver was collected into a slim unrepresentative volume; individual pages are occasionally exposed in museums, under glass. But Gysin’s central interest in language was not only in what it did and did not say, but in what it literally hid and revealed. Inspired by his study of Japanese and Arabic calligraphy, Gysin experimented with the visual aspects of writing in mixed media paintings, which partake in equal parts of Zen and Abstract Expressionism. His films featured fragments, repetition and jump cuts; his poetry was spurred by algorithm and happenstance. His music encompassed jazz, spoken word, and sounds of all seasons. With his Dreamachine, “the first art object to be seen with the eyes closed,” Gysin and Ian Sommerville programmed a rotating slit cylinder of strobing light to alter perception using alpha waves. In all his work, Gysin pushed our forms of expression past their logical extremes, strolling along a Möbius strip of meaning like it was the most ordinary thing in this extraordinary world. Fancy a stroll yourself? He’d be delighted to invite you along.
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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Dolly Parton.
READ MORE about members of the The New Gods generation (1914-23).