Drawing Restraint – Matthew Barney
Matthew Barney’s work is very good, and I’ve been a fan for a long time. Its the kind of work that you can keep going back to over and over. It never gets boring and each time you go back there’s something new that you didn’t notice before.
It has to be seen to be believed.
Try this – one of the biggest pieces is a series of 30 – 40 foot slabs of petroleum jelly in various states of solidity, lying on, under and around 1-inch 8×4 slabs of plastic, topped with a great big long thin chunk of ambergris (or whale vomit) encrusted with prawn shells, speared with a plastic harpoon trailing a plastic rope that runs off to join up with other works in other parts of the gallery.
Spend some time there. Walk around it. Smell it. Once the full force of its physical impact has registered you may find that other ideas and thoughts appear. Barney’s work often has mythological links and references, sometimes using masonic symbols in his work. Its quite intimidating if your not familiar with the lexicon, but its a great incentive to go and find out more, and I find his work thoroughly thought-provoking and educational.
If you’ve never seen his Cremaster cycle of films, I recommend that you watch at least one – they are the most heavily laden symbolic events that I’ve ever seen, and there you’ll get a true feel for his work.
The works in this show make me think in terms of whaling and the various ethics involved, of Moby Dick, and of oil-industry by-products. Whaling was once a much-used resource that has fallen out of favour. There are also interesting thoughts to do with escapology in this show. Much of the work focuses on the physical act of attempting to draw drawings whilst being prevented from doing so (hence the title) – trying to draw on the ceiling by bouncing on a trampoline or scaling the wall with climbing gear, or trying to draw on a boat that is being tossed about in rough seas – all of which are documented on video, and the results displayed for you to peruse – alongside Barney’s trademark photos of satyrs.
I’m always intrigued by artists who create a whole environment rather than just a finished work on a wall that stands alone, and Barney seems to be able to do this well without resorting to huge projected images in darkened rooms, un-like many other artists.
You know what? I’m going to give up trying to explain this to you, because I can’t. It’s too awesome for me to describe. If you only go and see one show this year, then please, please see this one.