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History repeating

This Irish artist recasts history in video installations that draw on everything from Sartre to Playboy – and question our present-day beliefs too

Gerard Byrne's art is riddled with cracks. In his video installations reconstructing events from the recent past, the gaps widen vertiginously between what we see in front of us and what we remember. He starts off with a written document – a story from a top-shelf magazine, a car ad or even a piece of art criticism – anything that dates quickly. Then he restages it with actors, a film crew and a clutch of Brechtian distancing techniques.

Playboy has provided the artist with some juicy material. New Sexual Lifestyles (2002) takes a roundtable interview from 1979, featuring Deep Throat's Linda Lovelace, Screw magazine's editor Al Goldstein and feminist Betty Dodson, and restages it with an Irish cast in contemporary smart/casual office wear. Nonetheless their talk – touching on "the establishment", "swingers" and "leather bars" – clearly dates from another age. Another film, 1984 and Beyond, included in Byrne's Irish pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, was based on an article where the likes of Arthur C Clarke and Ray Bradbury discussed their vision for the future, from orgasm pills to cheap moon travel. These are comedies of temporal and cultural collisions that work in both directions: are our own present-day assumptions any less volatile than the debates of the free love era?

Born in 1969, Byrne grew up in Dublin at a time when the social changes shaking up the rest of the world were filtered through the Catholic church. He has since become one of Ireland's most celebrated artists, renowned for his kaleidoscopic take on how information is translated and understood. The artistic and intellectual revolutions of earlier generations frequently unravel in Byrne's work. His most recent multiple-screen installation, A thing is a hole in a thing it is not, quotes artist Carl Andre and tackles minimalism's relationship to time. He has also recast the radical work of Beckett and Sartre, cutting them adrift from their historical moment. Rather than lament the good old days, Byrne suggests that things never are how we think about them in the first place.

Why we like him: Byrne's series of photographs begun in 2006, A Country Road. A Tree. Evening., takes its title from the famed stage direction from Waiting For Godot. The dramatic stage-lit images show windswept, blasted trees in the Irish and French countryside – the fruits of his absurd quest to find a real life point-of-origin for an act of imagination.

Doublespeak: Byrne says that he was first switched on to the power of political messages when watching the politician Gerry Adams on the news – at the order of the British government, his voice was controversially dubbed by an actor.

Where can I see him? Gerard Byrne has solo exhibitions at Lismore Castle Arts, Ireland until 30 September and at the Common Guild, Glasgow, until 26 June. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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