The Herald of Discomfort
September 24, 2011. New York
For many, to visit a new exhibition represents the opportunity to apply over what you see, hear or experiment, the values and ideas established and safely cultivated. The contact with the work is permeated by the effort to adjust what is presented with what you already know. And than, taste is occupied with accepting or discarding, and finally announcing - it’s art. In that approach, a certain spectator, his emotions, his conscience, could remain rested, inert. Matthew Barney’s work is not for those.
Unavailable, that audience, with their sterile curiosity refuses the charade, the invitation to the labyrinth. What a waste, that stiffness, for where else, if not in art, would we find such and immense and generous place where we could be lost? Why should we insist? They refuse to be open-minded or search for the place where lie meets invention. Clinging to ancient conclusions, to the compromise of entwining truth with art for the whole eternity, don’t realize that they are already lost in a world that is mist and artifice and that are missing so much.
In the encounter with his work a defiant disorder is generated, where the search for meaning follows the risky and vertiginous dive in the artists personal mythology. That’s clearly not for everybody, but who is to say that all art should be accessible? Access is the prerogative of the politically correct, of a kind of populism that would confine us in the obvious. “Hermetic! Liar!” Would cry some of the crowd, without looking at the work or observe it’s signs, the clues and recurrent symbols in other projects, that create a unique universe, filled with characters and symbols, from the artist’s own history to an intense and fantastic way of seeing the world that surrounds him.
Matthew Barney also challenges our definitions of what can be a work of art, and foremost what experience could possibly be had with art. Opening the way to astonishment, with his films, performances, drawings, sculptures and installations, with characters that flee the screens and invade the galleries, the museum and climb its heights. He creates, in each project; a circuit that carries among its various mediums the same unified narrative. In it’s apparent disorder, one could find a system that drains from the history and everything that is magic and symbolic in a chosen culture or place. This system uses that culture, it’s objects and mythologies, to generate dreams, while testing the limits of our capabilities to make associations and defying, thereafter, knowledge’s own claim of crystallizing all meaning.
He rebels by linking cars to buildings, by using whaling ships, horses, ridges, lakes in witch surface cowboys drag bulls. Assassins that fire in the back of the head of their victims, the typical cowardly heroes from the land of the free and home of the brave. The long showgirls legs their socks and panties in a fast seriality. The geometry of the cheerleader’s choreography as seen from a high airship, by stewardesses glancing from it’s windows hardcore bands with their audiences jumping and colliding the cars that sometimes are machines for the wreckage of the past, and other times are nests, all as characters or scenery for his astonishing tales.
Barney creates scenes in closed spaces, secretive ones - conspirator’s burrows, and masturbation cabins, places where the sex of man and the oil of the machines touch. Spaces so reclusive, but at the same time so close to what is vast, public, and to where the crowds pass by, that we have to rethink our own sense of scale and reset our perception. Confront the artist duality as both exhibitionist and voyeur.
In many of his works there are allusions to games, their phases, to resistance, and to the work/role of each character, each task that triggers another stage, a new circuit. And in them an artist who is an athlete, can course the path, dressed and metamorphosized in disciple, to evolve in a bizarre epic. One that he can’t let go, obsessive, per formative. So that he could meet in the top, other masters, the queen, the architect, the magician, to reach other artists as Mailer and Serra, to revere Houdini, the supreme deceiver.
Sometimes we feel repulsed for some of his works, for all the overflows and runs, the fluids and the semen of a stiff cock filled with feathers and dirt, feel discomfort with all the matter that melts, that crumbles, and that doesn’t want to stay fixed. For his disgusting androgyny, the cheesy erotic’s of a nurse in high heels with her fingernails hurt and dirty. For the teeth that drip from his asshole, wrapped in goo, in chemical and visceral plasma, that leaves the mouth bleeding, empty. The cremaster muscle the title of his most well known series, composed by five films, which is in fact responsible to make the scrotum either expand or retract.
All the repulse it makes us feel, although natural and justified, could also be interpret as our refusal to see ourselves as repugnant creatures that we sometimes are, compulsive, real and incomplete. And to see ourselves apart from our abstractions, apart from the protection of gadgets and apparatus that we create so we don’t have to touch the world. Our repulse is nothing less than our denial to acknowledge our finitude.
Matthew Barney is the contemporary version of the archetype of the necessary mad man; the latest blind that all sees, or the court jester. In the velocity of his kaleidoscope we can also feel the freedom of being momentarily insane. To right ahead, cynically, comfort ourselves with his super star success, reminds us of the multi million dollars costs of some of his movies, and with that appease ourselves knowing that nothing so expensive can be too dangerous. That his big lie makes the ground around us unstable for a while, but we know that it won’t last. After all even the circus closes, and at night in the dark, with the attractions turned off, nobody will scream nor laugh. The show is always over, the curtain descends, and the chaos will not invade our homes.
But, what if not even that scarce fantasy existed? What we were all prisoners of the news, of the primaries, debates, debts, crimes and epidemics? Held by the slow routine, of walking our cold empty neighborhoods, and searching for meaning in the drugstore shelves? If we had our imagination tied by everything that we were suppose to desire collectively but individually we can’t have? How many substances, prescriptions, alcohol, fries, sugars, would we have to ingest, to relief our emptiness and fulfill our lives?
Without that art, that forges a spectacle so it can reflect and distort our world, we would always remain the same, without the discomfort with the deformation in the mirror, we would always be certain. Matthew Barney makes us doubt.