Thursday, October 26, 2006

Matthew Barney at the Babylon Theatre Transcript from Post-Film discussion Wednesday 25 October (preceeding "Barney and Beuys" at the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin)
(Transcribed verbatim from audio recording)

Matthew Barney: Thanks for coming and I''d like to propose that we have a question and answer after this and talk more about it informally in that I think all those who have organized this consider this an expirament even more-so than the exibition and we've taken some more liberties in making some symmetries between Eisenborg and certain programs during the next month, for instance there will be some films that are projected simultaneously, we're trying some things that have a sprit that I think will be helpful to the exhibition, so let's talk after the films, plese enjoy

FILMS of Beuys (2) and Barneys SCAB ACTION and De Lama Lamina are played straight through-

Post-film Moderator:
There are two mics, one on either side of the room, so whoever wants to ask a question if they might raise his hand we'll pass the mic through.

TAR ART RAT: Hi, yea, gosh I forgot already... (looking as scribblings on hand) oh, I was just curious, do you ever intentionally put humor into your films- (laughter from audience) I mean, not to say-, It's, I've seen most of them and things like the dancing lamb girls, Gary Gilmore's Tiny little weener, the nutsack on the wheel, even the fact that we just watched you fuck a truck, which is not overtly funny but a bizarre idea, does that ever enter your mind in the creation of the films?

Matthew Barney: Yea, I think humor is pretty important, -there's a type of humor that I gravitate towards and it is physical- it's physical comedy and there have been quite a few scenes that were quite literally in the tradition on physical comedy but I think that all of these physical conditions that become either violent or humorous are about trying to think about the dramatic arc of the work and trying to release some of the pressure that is built up so that an arc can take place. This is something in cinema that happens with characters and with dialogue and a lot of the things that I don't really have in these pieces so comedy on that level or humor on that level is probably pretty important.

Like a little bit of comic relief... maybe?

Matthew Barney: Yea, -to relieve the pressure.

TAR ART RAT: Cool. Thank you.

(long shuffle as microphone changes hands)

Matthew Barney: One thing I could say is that there was a fellow who stood up while the credit were rolling and was expressing a very strong feeling about the treatment of the animal in the piece and we ended up talking about that it was a special effect and his comment was that he really feels like that should be made clear in the credits somehow- because it was very disrespectful, anyhow he made that comment.

German Audience member: Why did you put your films in the context of the Beuys films? I mean, connected to this question because he is a very naieve whimsical person...

Matthew Barney: Well, I think that it is an extention of an exhibition at the Guggenheim, and so that exhibiton started with the idea of taking works in the Guggenheim collection that are his and mine and make a conversation. Both Nancy Spector and I felt like there are certain places where Beuys - where the life of his work has vanished a bit -he passed away- and I went through the film archive and saw a lot of things I hadn't seen before and I felt like it was important for these documents, whether they were edited films or whether they're were just loose clippings like you saw here, that would bring the acting element back into the work which I'm sure some of you have come to know this but I'm sure was very present when he was alive and around his objects. I guess I feel like my practice is also essentially about the sculpture and that these stories are a way of creating a narrative out of which sculpture can come and of course this is very true with Beuys, so- I think he's the first person who, in my studies, I who felt like I could locate that in my own desire to make narrative sculpture, he's a very strong representative for how this could happen.

(giggling as the mic takes a long time to be passed down an aisle)

German Audience Member 2: I have a question, like, how you feel how you interact with the spectator of your work, for example Beuys, from the action we saw, the spectators were really welcomed into it and really acting in but you seem to hide more from the spectator like in this one you were really not visible to those people and it kind of the same thing in your movies, like many of these things the spectaor is not present, so how do you see that connection?

Matthew Barney: Well, I think that the De Lama Lamina and the film that was made just after that, which was Drawing Restraint 9 which was shot in Japan on a whaling ship, I think these pieces are both coming out of this tenured project of Cremaster essentially where, as you're saying, it is kind-of a closed world where it has aspects of performance I think in terms of setting up situations- physical situations- that happen in real time capturing them on camera, when I finished Cremaster I was craving, I think, the embarrassment of being in a live condition and I guess I'd had a small taste of that as a student in making some performance, so De Lama Lamina was really about diving into that; into a situation I couldn't control. I can tell you that being in the middle of that was very,- I felt... not present as a performer but I felt the presence of the crow against me and it excited me very much, and I think what grew out of that was the Drawing Restraint 9 piece which started with the condition of going onto the Japanese National Whaling ship and making a story on that ship with their crew, that' how that story started, other words Cremaster was much more on an overlying sort of 'filmmaking' in the sense of casting actors, creating sets, having an environment that is very controlled. In my opinion it is very different...

American Audience Member:
In your work you combine the abject and the sexuality a lot and I was wondering if you use that purely metaphorically of if you were commenting on developments in society, if you think it's a larger trend?

Matthew Barney:
I suppose it isn't so different from the question about humor, I think that the sexuality tends to be about transitioning from one state to another within these narrative constructs and I think they're, in my opinion, not about, -they're not an external statement. On the other hand there's a consciousness of how they operate within the piece in terms of this lessening pressure, in terms of how something needs lubrication, all of these works have to do with the notion of taking an object language and giving an object behavior, and so humor, sexuality, a lot of these things tend to be about infusing inanimate things with behavior.

American Audience member:
I'm really interested in when arts and activism can come together and since you've put Julia Butterfly in this film I was just wondering if you think these kinds of films and your kind of sculptural can have the same kind of social impact that an act like Julia Butterfly did to save a forest or a tree, can your work or the kind of work that you're doing work on the same kind of scale can impact, being a kind of art praxis?

Matthew Barney:
I don't know. I can say that my intention wouldn't be to have that kind of impact, that's not why her character is in the piece, I think her character is there as a way of describing a duality in Candomblé, the African religion that's very strong where this Carnival takes place, so I'm interested in using one of these deities to give structure to the story and Ogoun is the deity of iron and war, so he's a kind of a creation myth, he's a fertility god- the creator of iron and with his iron he's able to cut down the primordial forest to give rise to civilization, so he's a way of understanding the conflict that with the development of the knife and its ability to create civilization he's also created a weapon that can kill another and so he's used as a kind of lens to understand those balances as both in nature and in the world. Adding this conservation, -this character conservation at the top of the tree- there's another deity called... uhm... ah...

Audience Member from Balcony whispers: Oxum...

Matthew Barney: ...ah... what was that again?

Audience Member from Balcony: Oxum.

Matthew Barney:
One more time-

Audience Member from Balcony:

Matthew Barney: Oxum, yea, that's right. Sorry, he's the Medicine Man essentially, they say he has a contract with the forest and takes from the forest the droppings from the animals and makes medicine, so thinking about the structure of Carnival: a carnival trail always has a truck it always has a rope, it always has a membership and it has the pressure of the crown around it. I started thinking about how the truck, this character of the machine fetishist and Julia Butterfly all could, in a conglomerate way, express the duality of not just Ogoun but of (incomprehensible: man-made scene?). Those two deities are often in partnership that way. I guess this isn't so different from the way Cremaster starts, the chapters of Cremaster start with a place, then they look for within that place mythologies that are local and available, that my language can attach to. The same thing happened in Baiaia but again the difference has to do with condition, of creating a resonance in that time as well as make a film.

German Audience member:
What is your relation to movies? I saw the Cremaster Cycle and I noticed that using a parallel action music and sound as a dramatic mean, that is the first part of the question and the second part is that why don't you distribute your films like movies? As far as I'm informed there exist just a very few copies of Cremaster and they are shown only in museums of they tour very seldomly around, so; Movie and the relation to the movies and how you put your work into the context of the movie industry.

Matthew Barney: Well, I think that what I showed tonight, the SCAB ACTION was the very first video I made as a student and I think from there, I think quite organically these, ah, well in a way SCAB ACTION was much more cinematic than the things that came after it which were much more like real-time trials and were videotaped. Over time I became more interested in editing these trialsinto stories and I think that that continued up to the point that the Cremaster Cycle was made- without ever really having the intention of making a film. The first chapter, Cremaster 4 was shot on video, largely handheld, and I had the intention of broadcasting it on television during the TT races, which take place on the Isle of Man where that was shot, I wanted that to happen the following year and that would be the distribution of this ñ what I considered to be a- side-specific sculpture. I couldn't convince a tv station to do this (audience laughter) so I talked to some theatres in New York, Joseph Pabst Public Theater ended-up offering us a room forgetting up a projector, we projected it and it was an extension of an exhibition not so different from this. After that Film Forum in NY offered to play it on the screen, but they didn't have a video projector so we had to make a transfer to film and that's the only reason it ended up in that cinema, it wasn't really a part of my program to make films, the program was to make a five-part art site-specific piece, (it kind of earth-wormed(?)) a piece of land art superimposed over it, that's how I was looking at it at that point. As the pieces were made and as the opportunities to have them them in cinemas was very satisfying to me to see, whereas it would be very unsatisfying for me to put it in a gallery, project it and have people come in in the middle of it and leave after a couple of minutes, it wasn't intended to be that way, so the cinema worked as a playback mechanism.

The pieces were made after that knowing that they would be in the cinema, I think the cinematic language crept in more and more. It is important to say that it is never stopped being -whether it was a handheld piece or a more produced cinematic work I think it never stopped being a program in sculpture, that's what its always been, to create a narrative line and to make the sculpture from that. They are distributed, there's a distributor in Europe and in America who distributed them theatrically and they've been bringing them back in certain cities year after year which is very exciting for me. They're not distributed on video because they're sold as limited edition sculpture and that's the way they're filmed. We generate the money to make them by using the economy of the art world, we have to sell them in the same way that you'd sell a limited edition sculpture.

German Audience member: I wanted to ask you in which way you see the relationship between work and Beuys work, ah- the work of Beuys.

Matthew Barney: I think it has to do with narrative, of course there are different periods for him. Later periods are more political and there are certain works which are much more specific to Germanic sensibility and I feel less connected to those things in terms of what I'm doing and yet I'm very connected to his use of mythology, specifically of personal myth, the combination of the autobiographical and the mythological and also what I would describe as a kind of a faith that a man can enter a piece of raw material and that object can be abstract ñ I think he's a very important example of how that's possible at the same time in America when minimalism was taking place, it's a very different idea. I feel very close to that.

Animal Rights Man
walks up and sits down without microphone and begins speaking: Can you say a little bit about what is the meaning when you do this scene in the film with the monkey. Awfully sad.

Matthew Barney: Sure, I had read the the Golden Tamarind, which is endangered Brazil, they were worried about- other than losing that species, they were worried about losing its droppings because the droppings are important to an antibiotic and this, as I was saying before, this relationship to the deus the Medicine man, the one who makes the contract with the forest, taking just enough to heal, and the relationship that has to the (incomprehensible) who is ambivalent, he's the destroyer and the creator simultaneously. I wanted to make a piece that would attempt to create balance between those different forces in place Baiaia (sp?)where those beliefs are very strong.

Animal Rights Man:
Yea, but I have a problem, I don't see there being a critique in this, I live also in South America- and the animal have a soul, and to use it in a way like that, all these people can see- I mean it's not real but it is still there- I don't feel a critique in that, I feel more a glorification

Matthew Barney: I don't know if I can say much more than I've said, I think what you're saying is that balance has failed, but the intention was to create a balance between the destructive force of Ogoun and this effort to conserve of Oxum and the way that that Candomblé uses nature as a lens to understand the rest of the world, that these destructive forces in nature and in culture both- this piece was made when a lot of creative people feeling the need to try to understand what's going on in the world and I think something like Condablay works for me that way as a way of trying to understand the balance.

Animal Rights Man
cointinues to persist on-and-on finally the artist says politely "Ok, I... think we're done..." but even after the talk is over the man approaches him and continues to talk for another 10 minutes:

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Blogger Marcus Silverthorne said...

I confess that I have not yet had the indescribable pleasure of watching these particular films by Mr. Matthew Barney, but I was inspired by his brilliant and penetrating comments to leave an admittedly somewhat uninformed response of my own.

After reading these startling transcripts, one need not even watch the relevant films to realize that we are dealing with an artist in the truest sense of the word. Clearly, Mr. Barney is fully committed to the juxtaposition, confrontation, and eventual sublation of all dualities in the discordant consciousness of what I hope you'll forgive me in calling the "behavioral inanimate." As always, Paul Thomas, the so-called Tar Art Rat, has missed the point in his question. Humor--the filmic mode of comic relief--always breaks in upon and MERELY disrupts the diegetic unity of visual narrative (and I mean this in the broadest sense as a "transition of states"). But an artist like Mr. Barney is clearly capable of going beyond these everyday techniques and accomplishing a feat rarely even attempted: through the subversive non-external statements of sexuality and industrial-bestiality, he is able to forge a transitional structure that is at once conscious of its own narrative constructs and capable of modulating the most variegated pressures through what Barney himself calls "lubrication".

In order to see this profound reconception of filmic narrative unity in action, we must only think of Barney's experiments with simultaneity and symmetry, both within the conventional boundaries assigned to a work by its "title" and beyond those boundaries to the underdetermined relationships between multiples works. For example, his attempt to confront the dual nature of construction-destruction (Oxum-Ogoun) within his work also points beyond itself through a kind of intersubjective reflexivity. Let us take the fact that by his own admission he has tried in this work to renounce control, naturally bringing to mind the sovereignity paradox (can a King sovereignly renounce his sovereignity?). In doing so, Barney brings us face to face with the paradox involved in any creative activity, which somehow stands as an extension of our self-constitution but also stands OVER AND AGAINST us, as itself a challenge, a mirror-image that simultaneously calls us to account and forces to begin the process of self-constitution anew. And perhaps, it is this very cycle of creation and destruction that gave rise to the unparalleled Cremaster cycle in the first place.

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