Although there is the usual Barney buzz surrounding Drawing Restraint 9, it might be an over statement to call his latest movie, “highly anticipated”, given that many of us are still suffering from Cremaster* over exposure. In 2003 Barbara Gladstone effectively relocated her gallery to the Guggenheim (almost every piece in that show appeared “courtesy of the artist”, which means most of it would have been available for sale), and the hype around that show was so successful you literally couldn’t have a conversation about art during that time without his name coming up. Prolonging this effect has been the proliferation of his photographs, as there seems to be a least one for every scene in his five lengthy films. At this point there is enough of this guys sweaty plastic frames to lubricate a small army of porn stars.
Barney’s latest movie which premiered yesterday at MOMA, is by far the worst film he has ever made. It’s not like all of us are going to see his movies because we think he’s going to deliver a three hour ride of adrenaline, so when an artist who is known for his innovative use of materials decides not to do much with them, the work suffers. This is coupled with the unnecessary problems created by the fact that casting Bjork in a near dialogueless movie is the equivalent to using a puppy in a live theatre production, (try thinking anything other than “It’s Bjork!” when the musician is on screen).
DR9 begins with the ceremonious wrapping of two gifts and shots of a parade, each of which appear to be “primers” for the commitment ceremony that occurs later in the movie. To be certain we all know who is making the movie, Barney immediately presents us with various permutations of the Cremaster/Barney logo, a method of working that recalls the slightly less ego-gratifying series Walking Woman Works by Michael Snow. Predating Barney’s explorations of logo forms, Snow similarly spent six years in the 60s using a silhouette cutout to free himself of all concerns unrelated to formal exploration.
Once logo stickers have been applied to the gifts and the parade has finished marching, the scene shifts and we are provided with a number of long shots over Nagasaki Bay. A bearded Barney directs a small boat towards Bjork who standing on a rock somewhere and in true Barney style, 30 minutes later he finally manages to pick his wife up and transport the two of them to the Japanese whaling ship Nishin Maru.
Like any other architectural space the artist employs this one is meant to suggest the body on some level. In this movie, if we know this, it is probably because we have been told or have noticed the thematic in previous work rather than through the success of this metaphor. The most obvious reference to the body comes during a scene when the ship fills with fluid, but aside from this moment, there is too much open space on the ship to effectively communicate these ideas.
Other activities during the movie more specifically address the body, such as the investigation of the physical properties of petroleum, and the commitment ceremony between Bjork and Barney. Neither one yeilds interesting results. The jelly scenes are a rehashing of more successful work in the Cremaster series, and the commitment ceremony violates some of the most fundamental principles of sound art making practice, namely that if you are Matthew Barney you should NEVER EVER use CGI. Barney has no aptitude with digital mediums, and has demonstrated this both in Cremaster 3, when he used an animation program to spin a ribbon falling from the top of the Empire State building, thereby cheesifing what would have been a nearly perfectly visually contructed movie (speaking strickly of the first half), and in Drawing Restraint 9 where any underwater shot he’s made looks stupid because the computer generated images are poorly excecuted and he has chosen to render something in a medium that makes no sense relative to his larger working process.
And so, while workers on the ship, transforming and testing the physical limitations of petroleum, Bjork and Matthew Barney declare their love for each other, while lopping off each others legs. If this premise isn’t stupid enough, the declaration coincides the destruction of “the field” (the giant Barney/Cremaster logo), thereby symbolising the death of Cremaster**. I suppose there had to be an end to this mans balls, but there are some fairly serious issues raised given that their loss coincides his decision to commit to a woman. The movie ends on a horribly cliche note, with Bjork chirping the lyrics “From the moment of commitment, nature conspires to help you”, while two linking pearl circles provided by a Barney sea creature fall to the ocean floor. Try not to barf as you exit the theatre.
*Cremaster: a thin muscle consisting of loops of fibers derived from the internal oblique muscle and descending upon the spermatic cord to surround and suspend the testicle called also cremaster muscle
**It appears as though Barney applies this logo to more than just Cremaster, but since it was popularized through this film series, it’s destruction may read differently than he intends.