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Friday, March 17, 2006

The Wedded Bliss of Matthew Barney + Bjørk

Posted by on March 17 at 11:26 AM

Matthew Barney is known for dressing up as a satyr and an apprentice and stuffing bloody rags into his mouth and behaving strangely in a series of 5 chilly, dense, vaguely perverse films named after the muscle that controls the descent and ascent of the testes, the cremaster muscle.

I got to see the full Cremaster exhibition at the Guggenheim three years ago, where all the films were being screened, but I didn’t have time to watch them all, and the prop sculptures exhibited along the circular ramps seemed forced and pointless. The parts of the films I did see were awfully indulgent on the part of the artist, and yet they were alluring, rich, and metonymic instead of metaphoric. I found them taxing, but I wanted to spend more time with them. Their conceit is prenatal sexual differentiation, which progresses in a tortuous way via narratives and characters including the Chrysler Building, the murderer Gary Gilmore, Harry Houdini, the artist dressed only in an apron and high heels, and some very stringently beautiful women in cramped quarters, constraining outfits, and pasties.


The Cremaster tone and symbols look alive and well in Drawing Release 9, Barney’s first big project since Cremaster. It’s a collaboration with his baby-mama, Bjørk, and in the just-released trailer, the Icelandic singer (whose icy voice accompanies the scenes in a soundtrack with songs like “Ambergris March”) and the jock-y artist steal uneasy glimpses at each other from beneath furry costumes that look like the garb of a barbaric ancient clan. (Her white hair helmet is worth seeing.)

They also make out, with knives.


“The core idea of Drawing Restraint 9 is the relationship between self-imposed resistance and creativity, a theme it symbolically tracks through the construction and transformation of a vast sculpture of liquid Vaseline, called The Field, which is molded, poured, bisected and reformed on the deck of the ship over the course of the film,” the promo text says.

A full synopsis of the 2 1/4-hour film, shot on board a Japanese whaling ship and sure to be eye candy for the habitual Bjørk-oglers, is here. The soundtrack is already for sale.

The film will be released March 29, but I don’t know where (can’t imagine Seattle). I’ll keep an eye out anyway. I’m curious about whether Barney’s moment is over, or whether he’ll get past Cremaster.

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It will be released commercially first in New York, at the new IFC theater.


Jen, which sculptures went with the screening you saw? three or four for cremaster 5 were quite good.

A big Bjork fan, I bought the CD soon after it came out.
The music is amazing, really amazing. Weirder and more complex than anything she's ever done, worthy of endless repeat listening.
By no means is this a top-40 record. It's twisted and scary with truly confounding musical structures. On occasion it's downright unpleasant. But it's always fascinating and breaks new group for my favorite pop-culture diva.

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