Famed for his obsessive love of petroleum jelly as a medium for sculpture, Matthew Barney uses 45 000 pounds of the stuff in the creation of Drawing Restraint 9. This film documents the making of that piece, which is both sculpture and film, done aboard a Japanese whaling vessel. Intimately involved in the production is Barney’s collaborator and partner Björk.
For those, such as myself, for whom this is a first exposure to Barney, this film is both intriguing and frustrating… It is intriguing for the glimpses it gives us of the scale of Barney’s projects, but it is rather short on detail. It is at its best when giving us background on the artist’s career, but at its worst in giving us any real sense of what the hell this new project is about. The movie feels as if it were a making-of featurette (and it’s only 71 minutes long) on the non-existent DVD of Drawing Restraint 9 itself. Without having seen the actual piece, much of what goes on here is baffling. If “I don’t get it” is the frequent response to contemporary art in general, and Barney’s work in particular, this effort won’t help very much in changing that response.
The quality of the audio would be more important if this were a DVD of the documentary’s subject, where music does seem to play a crucial role. Even so, the 2.0 soundtrack is more than adequate to the task at hand, providing some decent environmental effects and handling the the score well.
The picture quality here is very much dependent on that of the source material. Video footage, therefore, looks rather grainy and soft, but talking-head interviews are very sharp, and some of the clips we see of Drawing Restraint 9 are spectacular. Generally speaking, the colours are good and naturalistic.
The principle extras are a collection of further interviews (some only 30 seconds long) with Barney about his influences, other works in the cycle, and so on; with Björk on the subject of Japan; and with New York Times art critic Michael Kimmielman on Barney’s early work. These are essentially deleted scenes. There are also two time lapse sequences: one of the mold and the jelly at the Brooklyn studio, the other of the same materials on the ship. And that’s that.
Enough here to be interesting, but not enough to be compelling. This is preaching to the choir, not converting those outside it.
Special Features List
- Time Lapses