Feb 12, 2007

Matthew Barney's Art (and Music) in Madison

Matthew Barney - Cremaster 2 film still (1999)
[Steve Tucker as the voice of Johnny Cash singing over the phone to a jailed Gary Gilmore]

Matthew Barney's own personal restraint, Matthew Ryle, stood behind a strangely normal wooden podium in a Madison lecture hall on Thursday and illuminated the studio world behind Barney's sweeping metaphorical landscapes (arbitrarily focusing on Cremaster 2). It's his job as Production Designer to execute surrealist whims, craft a timely decision-making process, and polish plastic surfaces to a shiny fetish.

For the devoted Barney equivalent of Trekkies, it's a test of faith to see Cremaster's suface wiped clean of extra-terrestrial wax. The rough napkin sketches of fossil fuel-based objects are suddenly revealed to be products not only of artistic insiration, but of a funding strategy to preserve and perpetuate the work and negotiations contingent on the local bureau of land management. These realizations balance a project of boundless innovation with realist flaw.

At this point the moderator interjected in reminder of the vague academic topic of the evening (Object-ness) and the Ryle responded by excruciatingly pointing out everything in the film that is an "object". Yes, the gas station is an object. The 35mm film is an object, and the score, and the salt-fields, and the characters themselves. But I was more interested the unique Barney experience as an impressive coordination of systems of objects, not the individual objects themselves.

With the of blurred convention of postmoderism, Barney's art happens before and after the individual art object (the film) itself is compete. It evolves outside the theater in commentary of itself and its art environment, currated in museus and art houses, packaged in sculpture, and distributed in untapped distribution channels. And this fluid mixing of the conceptual and logistical elevates complex meaning beyond its paint-on-a-wall counterparts.

The very thesis of exploding how art is created and digested is obvious in the film's elaborate metaphor as content and the overwhelmingly slow motion of the camera, but it also spills out of the screen and into the cracks in our pre-formed intellectual containers. One box is drained of everything but pure scarcity in order to support surrounding panels of sustainability and associated elitist hierarcy. Another series of boxes is cheaply reproduced, but distributed into living rooms throughout a democracy. And my silent favourite societal container is dimly lit and full of critics, their shiny bald heads and muted burgundy sweaters scowling penetrating but legitimate points while visually not considering responses.

Matthew Barney considers himself a Sculptor, not a Film-maker. And the reason becomes clear to me, as the audience of Madison film students stress scripts, that film is final and the transient tranformative element is gone once the performance is completed. Barney remains an innovative new breed of sculptor whose tools craft an amorphous object of multi-faceted experience, and film is simply one medium in his ethic-questionable art domination.

Patti Griffin - Burgundy Shows (mp3): Matthew Barney's work integrates his obvious inspiration from expert musical performance. An amazing taste (fused by composer Johnathon Bepler) has overtly included Will Olham, Bjork, The Budpast Opera, Agnostic Front, and Murphy's Law... In Cremaster 2, he prominately features the icon of Johnny Cash, an acapella vocal by Patty Griffin, Steve Tucker from Morbid Angel, and Slayer's Dave Lombardo on an incredible bass-heavy drumset duet with a swarm of buzzing bees.

The Bees (UK) - Who Cares What The Question Is? (mp3): If you've ever romanticized about the adventerous life of your favourite band en route to the venue, The Bees' music video for this song explains it all... in claymation.


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