Saturday, January 4, 2014

Whaling as Art

Drawing Restraint 9 (2005) - Barney
In pictures:
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Japanese culture seems like a perfect match for artist Matthew Barney. In Drawing Restraint 9, his feature length film project, he takes on the ritual of whaling with the help of his girlfriend Bjork. Unlike his Cremaster Cycle films, Drawing actually has something resembling a plot. After elaborate giant whaling ship launching ceremony, two foreigners in fur coats (Barney and Bjork) gets invited (hauled in a basket) on board. Separately they get groomed and put on Matthew-Barney-hybrid kimonos (made out of animal hides) and attend an elaborate tea ceremony with Matthew-Barney-hybrid tea set (made out of various sea shells and sea creatures). In the mean time, the crew are busy hauling in some kind of manufactured sea log and what looks like a gigantic spine made out of wax in place of an actual whale. The night comes and the violent storm hits. The ship is taking in water, slowly submerging B and B. They start cutting each other's legs off with ritual daggers under water, then transform themselves into whales.

Continuing the theme and motifs from his Cremaster Cycle and marrying them with whaling - sperm, sperm whale, wax, blubber, amber gris, etc., Barney creates some stunning images accompanied by Bjork's score. All the rituals are loooong drawn out, but luckily, there are no repetitions of images or movements. I can't think of an art project that is this big in scale and ambitious yet quite coherent. Drawing Restrain 9 is quite an experience.

Sink or Swim

Drowning by Numbers (1988) - Greenaway
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Stunning: visual symmetry, use of background/foreground, lighting, insanely elaborate mise-en-scene.... Drowning by Numbers is just out of this world. The work of a true obsessive compulsive. The plot involves women, all named Cici, drowning their husbands.