The World Question Center: James Lee Byars

“Could you offer us a question that you feel is pertinent in regards to your own evolution of knowledge?” asks the voice at the end of the line. It’s James Lee Byars, the American performance and installation artist, “whose idiosyncratic, Zen-influenced blendings of Minimal and Conceptual art stressed questions over answers, absence over presence, and a lush momentary experience of beauty over permanence” (Roberta Smith, New York Times). The original idea was to lock 100 brilliant minds together behind closed doors and invite them to ask each other the question they had been asking themselves. It evolved into The World Question Center, a live broadcast on Belgian TV, during which the artist, supported by a panel of guests (including Marcel Broodthaers) and a ring of university students (the entire cast dressed in pink robes, but, alas, filmed in B&W) telephoned thinkers, scientists, and artists with his question. Filmmaker Jef Cornelis documented the proceedings: “That the network even broadcast this adventure, let alone at 10 o’clock on a Friday evening, is still a puzzle to me.”

James Lee Byars, Antwerpen 18 April — 7 Mei 1969 | Jef Cornelis/Belgium 1969. 32 min. DCP.
The World Question Center | Jef Cornelis/Belgium 1969. 63 min. DCP