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Surveying Recent Art by Matthew Barney at UCCA

  • Matthew Barney - Diana State two
September 29, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The 1990s saw the emergence of various exceptional artists and filmmakers but the one who produced the pioneering hybrid artworks which entirely penetrated the border between filmmaking and visual arts was Matthew Barney. Often proclaimed as the prolific cineaste prone to experimentation rooted in the avant-garde matrix, the renowned artist came to prominence after realizing the first chapter of his ten years long project called The Cremaster Cycle ((1994–2002).

Barney’s motion pictures are saturated with various references from mythology, geography, and biology, to art history and philosophy. By engaging various media such as photography, sculpture, and performance, the artist/filmmaker managed to construct authentic and often associative Imaginaries aimed to explore conflict, failure, the subconscious, and love.

The upcoming exhibition at the UCCA, Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing will feature Barney’s recent two-hour film alongside a selection of sculptures and engravings. After the famous Drawing Restraint 9 (2005) made in a collaboration with his former partner and a pop star Björk, and River of Fundament (2014), Barney will present the project Redoubt started in 2016.

Matthew Barney - Redoubt
Matthew Barney – Redoubt, 2018. Production still. © Matthew Barney, courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

The New Matthew Barney Film

Redoubt was shot in the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho and it represents Barney’s fascination with landscape as both the subject and the setting in his films. It portrays the Idaho region while it deals with the cosmological, classical and American myths regarding humanity’s place in nature. This narrative develops non-verbally – through a series of choreographies undertaken by the characters. These movements/dances were conceived by Eleanor Bauer in collaboration with K. J. Holmes, Sandra Lamouche, and Laura Stokes.

To be more precise, this film explores the myth of goddess of the hunt Diana and Actaeon, a hunter who accidentally trespasses on her and is punished. Through a series of six hunts, the myth develops depicting Diana as both the protector of the natural world and a predator accompanied by her attendants, the Calling Virgin, and the Tracking Virgin.

Diana pursues the elusive wolf through the mountainous terrain the Engraver follows the hunting trio and documents their actions in a series of copper engravings (he is then taking those works to a primitive laboratory where the Electroplater subjects them to an electrochemical transformation). The most striking scene at the end of the film features the Hoop Dancer who practices a Native American dance in a nearby town.

At the UCCA, Redoubt is set in 1800-square-meter Great Hall designed in close collaboration with the artist’s studio; the space includes a specially constructed screening room in which the film will be screened throughout each day of the exhibition period.

With the accompanying artworks, Barney continues to explore various materials by combining new digital technologies and traditional casting methods. The result are complex, multilayered sculptures based on the trees collected from a burned forest in the Sawtooth Mountains of northern Idaho near the artist’s childhood home. Brass and molten copper were practically poured through the trees, creating an unprecedented cast of the core as the metal rearranged it; therefore, each sculpture stands as a monument to Idaho nature. One of the sculptures was not initially displayed and was produced specifically for this occasion according to the dimensions of the mention Great Hall.

Alongside these sculptures, on display will be also engravings on a copper plate made by Barney during the filming of Redoubt, as well as a series of electroplated copper reliefs depicting the film imagery (e.g. the landscape of the Sawtooth Mountains and a wolf among the trees). The artist used a specific technique developed throughout the production – an image was engraved into a copper plate coated with asphalt, and then immersed in a combination of acid and copper where was exposed to an electrical current, causing copper growths to form out of the engraved lines. By changing the conditions in a tank – heat, current, and chemical concentrations Barney managed to achieve unique variations on each image. The plates that were left longest in the electroplating bath showed the most interesting results – the copper accretions overlaid the drawing, so the engravings transformed into abstract reliefs while the initial image almost vanished.

Matthew Barney - Redoubt
Matthew Barney – Redoubt, 2018. Production still. © Matthew Barney, courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Matthew Barney at UCCA

Redoubt is curated by Pamela Franks (Director at the Williams College Museum of Art in Massachusetts, and former Senior Deputy Director and Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Yale University Art Gallery), and it definitely shows how well balanced Barney’s practice has become – although the artist is apparently very prone to expressive forms and surreal narratives, this project underlines less pretentious and megalomaniac approach. Franks emphasized his current interests:

Barney’s intellectual and aesthetic frames of reference are wide-ranging: classical mythology as well as myths of the American West, modern choreography as well as contemporary Native American hoop dance, environmental science as well as wildlife biology, art history, cosmology, electrochemistry, and alchemy. The artist is equally adventurous in his approaches to materials and art making, with both casting and electroplating methods newly invented for “Redoubt”.

Throughout the exhibition, UCCA will release the Chinese version of the initial exhibition catalog including numerous stills and documentary photographs made while making the film, images of the engravings, electroplated copper plates, and tree sculptures, an introduction, six different essays, as well as a historical text exploring the relationship among forests, forest fires, and regrowth originally published in National Geographic in 1899.

Matthew Barney: Redoubt was initially presented at Yale University Art Gallery, and at now will be on view at UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing from 28 September until 12 January 2020. Afterward, the exhibition will travel to the Hayward Gallery in London.

Featured image: Matthew Barney – Diana: State two, 2018. Electroplated copper plate in copper frame.© Matthew Barney, courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels. All images courtesy UCCA.