Venue : the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa r,Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art(SFMOMA)
Organization : 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art Kanazawa, The Asahi Shimbun Company
After the Cremaster Cycle, an exploration of the alchemic transformation of the body that resulted in the creation of a self-contained and magnificent universe, Matthew Barney returned to his Drawing Restraint series which he has been working on since 1987 and which arguably represents the core of his work. Drawing Restraint is based on the idea that “resistance is a prerequisite for development and a vehicle for creativity” (Barney) and is inspired by the biological mechanism of the muscular system. When stress is applied to muscles, this causes the muscles to temporarily break down and weaken. After this, however, the groups of muscle fibers (composed of myofilaments which are grouped together with connective tissue) enlarge and the muscles are actually strengthened. Drawing Restraint is a metaphor for this phenomenon, called ‘hypertrophy.’ Together with Drawing Restraint, Barney created the field emblem, which is a rectilinear bar positioned over the center of a capsule-shaped body and which was later developed into a number of different versions to become an emblem of the artist’s work, including the Cremaster Cycle series. The field signifies the body or the living organism while the bar signifies restraint. ‘Resistance’ as something essential to ‘creation’ has been a central and consistent theme of Barney’s work. The concept of ‘resistance’ was initially introduced into his work as something physiological, with Barney’s experience as an athlete - of storing energy through physical training to create a (sculptural) body - and his physical awareness being directly reflected in the Drawing Restraint series.
For Barney, the initial exploration of the self must be carried out through the mechanism of mobility and through biological change. Added to this is Barney’s further exploration of the relationship between the characters which emerge when he incorporates existing people and myths into the stories in which they eventually feature.
Drawing Restraint 1 to 8, created before 2003, can be described as a depiction of physiological or metaphorical restraint. The former is evident in the drawings executed by Barney on the ceiling while jumping on a trampoline fixed onto a base set at an angle (Drawing Restraint 5) and running up a slope as he resists the pull of an elastic band strapped around his thigh to draw on the wall (Drawing Restraint 1 and 2). These works represent Barney’s attempt to confront unknown forms while applying various loads on his body. The element of narrative is strongest in Drawing Restraint 7 in which a satyr attempts to use a ram's horn as an implement to draw the horn in the condensation on the sunroof of a limousine. The drawing cannot be completed as the condensation freezes over. Here, “the existence of a spiritual threshold that does not permit desire” is expressed as a metaphor for restraint. (Note 2)
In Drawing Restraint 8, a project that was carried out ten years after Drawing Restraint 7, Barney inverted his previous proposal and this time removed restraint. Drawings placed inside elegant vitrines with curving cabriole legs are covered in mold and fungal fibers that seem to convey their deteriorating state. The removal of the metaphorical bar (restraint), superimposed over the three-dimensional version of the field emblem, is depicted in one of the drawings, titled “Drawings of Restraint” and covered in bright, yellow fibers. Freed of restraint, the field as living organism relaxes, begins to collapse and starts to atrophy. It is from this state that eroticism emerges and this new direction preempts Barney’s proposal for Drawing Restraint 9.
This theme of eroticism is highly charged and arguably represents a new element in Barney’s work. The Cremaster Cycle characters, for example, display no emotions whatsoever. It was only in Cremaster Cycle 5 - the last of the series – that the sexual desire and erotic dreams of the Queen of Chain were projected onto the three male characters played by Barney and depicted as a romantic tragedy. In this work, eros is depicted together with the consequences of debility and death. (Note 4)
Eroticism is also the theme of DE LAMA LÂMINA, filmed in Brazil in February 2004, immediately prior to Drawing Restraint 9. A collaborative work with Brazilian-American musician Arto Lindsay, DE LAMA LÂMINA can be described as an experimental and transitional work that incorporates documentary-like elements. A massive truck proceeds through the dancing crowd at a carnival. A tree has been attached to the front of the truck, which has a stage in the middle for the band comprising Arto Lindsay and other musicians. A metaphorical narrative unfolds on this stage. (Plate 5) A bizarre-looking man is hanging from the axle of the truck, flowers in his mouth and roots protruding from his anus. He eventually begins masturbating against the truck’s driveshaft. (Plate 4) The man represents Ogun, one of the deities worshipped by native African-Brazilian believers of the Candomble religion. Ogun is the deity of war and iron who developed iron in order to cut through the jungle forest to promote civilization. At the same time, however, Ogun is also the fierce deity of destruction who uses the same tool to take human lives. Ogun is in rapture as he continues to masturbate and appears to be gradually merging with the tree and the driveshaft. Meanwhile, items made from iron such as guns and shovels are being crushed by the truck’s tires as it proceeds through the crowd. The various acts carried out by Ogun, the woman (modeled on an eco-activist) clutching the tree in an attempt to protect it and Lindsay and the other musicians merge together. In the frenzy of the live performance, the white material at the top of the tree begins to dissolve and the truck is transformed into an organic blend. (Plate 6) This chaotic fusion of different elements, combined with the awesomeness of nature and the power of destruction, succeeds in conveying the nature of universal and primal eroticism.
The eroticism of Drawing Restraint 9 can arguably also be interpreted – through the love story of a man and woman – within the larger context of mythology and nature. If, for example, this work was to be interpreted as “the glorification of life until death” (Bataille), it could be described as representing the joy of life that has been violated by the awesome power of nature – by destruction and death – and then sublimated. The characters that inhabit the world of Drawing Restraint 9 move back and forth between the abnormal, plants and animal forms. There are similarities between Drawing Restraint 9 and DE LAMA LÂMINA: the incorporation of a documentary-like element (the depiction of external conditions as something that cannot be controlled), the fact that the transformation of form during the ceremony (the carnival in the case of the latter work) is central to the narrative, and the unique music featured in both works.
Although mythological subjects have also featured in the Cremaster Cycle it was often the structure that was referenced. In contrast, in these two works, it is the mythological power of nature that lies at the basis of the narrative as an unfathomable and emotional threshold of darkness. ‘Emotions and eroticism’, incorporated into the work through sacrificing structure and form, appear to have been summoned in order to destroy Barney’s closed and elaborate universe from within.
The film Drawing Restraint 9 is arguably the most narrative in structure of the Drawing Restraint series. It is a story of love and eroticism. There are essentially two narratives – one the removal of the restraint from the field emblem as preempted by Drawing Restraint 8, and the story of the man and woman who are invited onto a ship. They meet at a tea ceremony held in the tea room on board, fall in love and as petroleum jelly slowly fills the tea room, the two begin to cut each other with knives and are finally transformed into whales.
"The renewal of restraint and creation – the mythology of the 21st Century" Yuko Hasegawa , (Excerpts from the text)