“I envision the path like a digestive system that cycles back on itself, like a person with his head up his ass, or a snake biting its tail.” – Matthew Barney
Described as a “slow-motion cyclone” by Jerry Saltz in the Village Voice, Drawing Restraint 9 is a solemn but never static film that takes the viewer on a fascinating journey aboard a Japanese whaling vessel. Barney and his co-star Björk, who also provides the evocative soundtrack, are nameless Occidentals who arrive on separate boats to be united on the controversial whaler Nisshin Maru. The guests undergo elaborate costume fittings in preparation for a tea ceremony. Traditional Japanese dress and ritualised formalities are refracted through Barney’s very hermetic and personal vision, which imbues every object, gesture and setting with the frozen timelessness of sculpture. The result is a work of often spellbinding visual poetry. At the core of the film is a vast sculpture made of liquid Vaseline, which is moulded, poured and reformed on the deck of the ship during the course of the film. Steeped in seafaring lore, Shinto rituals and the artist’s idiosyncratic symbology, this almost wordless, stately film builds to a stunning operatic climax of flensing, transfiguration and rebirth.
One of the leading visual artists of his generation, Matthew Barney‘s multimedia works – fusions of sculpture, performance, design and architecture – convey esoteric meanings with sensual immediacy. Perhaps best known for his sprawling five film series The Cremaster Cycle, Barney’s gender-bending, athletic installations and films make densely layered references to myth, history, biology and sports. His Houdini-inspired debut show in 1991 in New York’s Gladstone Gallery featured a gynaecological speculum and videos of the naked artist scaling the gallery walls with ice screws. Acclaim and success were instantaneous.
Similarly celebrated in the world of music as Barney is in art, Björk is a major recording artist and musician whose work weds technology with emotion, musical innovation with raw expressionism. In spite of its radical ruptures and powerfully felt incantatory power, Björk’s soundtrack for Drawing Restraint 9 orients itself within the traditional musical forms of Japan.
Drawing Restraint 9, 2005
© 2005 Matthew Barney
Photo: Chris Winget
Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York