Thomas Bayrle (b. 1937(
Much has been made of Thomas Bayrle’s early days as a textile worker. The gallery statement for his current show, “Complete Films 1979-2007” at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, even begins with a quote from Mr. Bayrle regarding this experience: “Standing in the weaving factory, day after day, hour after hour, I sank deep into this undergrowth of warp and weft.” The textile motif also serves as a kind of philosophical template for Mr. Bayrle, who imagines a social fabric that “is made up of individuals who are woven together but cannot move.”
The best works here are the earlier films, which reflect the pulsing throb of the factory and its immobilizing effects. Several of these, like “Auto” (1979-80), include black-and-white overhead shots similar to those favored by Alexander Rodchenko and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, which reduce cars and people to abstract shapes and dots. “Autobahn-Kopf” (1988-89) features a hand-drawn human head schematic that further links the art to dehumanizing factory automation, and “Sunbeam” (1993-94) has a blistering, low-end soundtrack that recalls contemporaneous industrial music bands like Einstürzende Neubauten.
In those films, Mr. Bayrle used interesting techniques: printing photographs on pieces of rubber, stretching the rubber and filming it to create hallucinogenic effects. In his later films and paintings, Mr. Bayrle used computer programs to achieve similar yet less interesting results, more like trippy wallpaper or screen savers than imaginative artworks. Rather than commenting on industrial labor, aesthetics and technology in these works — and waking us from our catatonic workaday slumber — Mr. Bayrle seems to have sunk into the vapid space of the computer screen.