Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Matthew Barney: No Restraint

Earlier today I ran a review of the Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle as part of the long movie week. As the Wednesday matinee I'm presenting a look at Barney, his art and his filming of his film Drawing Restaint 9.

Matthew Barney No Restraint is about Barney's filming of Drawing Restraint 9, a film that he made with his companion Bjork. Its set on a Japanese whaling vessel and, as with much of Barney's work, involves a great deal of petroleum jelly. It begins in Brooklyn where Barney is testing out a tank that will be used to make a petroleum jelly casting on the whaling ship. The film then moves to Japan and we follow the filming of the movie. There are also interviews with people who know and admire Barney's work so the film acts as a nutshell biography of Barney and his art. While watching the new piece come together we get a taste of some of his other works, and since Barney's art consists of not only creating a piece of art but filming its creation we also see the works being put together. (Warning: some of it can be disturbing).

The title Drawing Restraint 9 refers to a series of works Barney has done where he limits his ability to move while making a drawing, say tethering himself to a bungee cord which keeps him from being able to stay at a paper attached near the top of a ramp. (The end credits for this film contains the film record of Drawing Restraint 10) I'm not a fan of Matthew Barney. I do like the imagery his filmed projects produce but at the same time I wonder if he's for real. I keep getting the feeling that he's a talented person who's found a way of bilking rich patrons out of a great deal of money. His work constantly makes me wonder if he's serious or not. Actually I know he's serious since few people would go as far as Barney and not reveal its all been a joke.

I had hoped that this film was going to give me some clue into to the art and mind of Matthew Barney. Unfortunately other than telling me how he does what he does, and providing some very beautiful imagery it left me cold. I still think Barney is full of it on all but a purely visual level, I especially find his his deeper meanings and explanations for what he's doing bordering on ludicrous. His massive Cremaster series (which is discussed here), which runs around 9 or 10 hours concerns itself with (I'm quoting someone in No Restraint here) "The descent of the testicle and the quest for freedom". Having seen the films created as part of that earlier cycle I have to say that at no time did a descending anything ever cross my mind. Clearly Barney and I have completely different take on his art. Then again watching the reaction of some of his supporters there are many people who want to be baffled by images Bjork waste deep in petroleum jelly hacking her legs off.

No Restraint is a tough slog. Certainly seeing how Barney brings his vision together is interesting but only to a point. We get only limited insight into what Barney is doing. He explains what he's doing, but since we see very little of Drawing Restraint 9 his explanations mean nothing (Barney is insisting that like Cremaster that work will never be seen on home video). At the same time the section of the film that show Barney's past work is of limited value since the people we see discussing it all seem to be somehow connected to Barney. Granted we get glimpses of what else he's done, but the work is very limited in context. I'm sure that had I seen Drawing Restraint or had been more familiar with the earlier work (and had liked it) this would have meant something to me. Instead it was 72 minutes that felt as though it was 60 too many.

Recommended if you want an introduction to Matthew Barney, but don't have to pay for it. Alternately if you're a huge Bjork fan and must see everything she's done or need to hear her talk about her work and life. Just keep the remote handy.

At the same time everyone else may want to just stay away

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