online: 20 november 2007
modified: 11, 19 november 2007

10 november 2007 a connective art

Matthew Barney: drawing restraint, Serpentine Gallery, London

15:47 a pervading odour of wax, or its volatile ingredient... the whole exhibition seems pervaded by chemistry, and by natural processes (of sea water, oil, rubber, synthetic plastics, and such... the almost nameless materials and forms of things not previously recognised as art... but known as bases of industrial culture (and whaling industry in particular)...

...people are here in some numbers (10 to 15 per exhibit) and few speak, perhaps they are baffled by things that seem not to fit one's expectations... i came expecting shallow trendiness but what is here seems to require new thinking, new words... continuing the freshness of Joseph Beuys when he began, particulary the fragile drawings... and Beuys's use of wax, or fat (here changed to petrolium jelly or industrial Vaseline)... i look at a 'fallen column' composed of what could be compressed or glued-together seashells... and what looks to me like vast quantities of once-molten candle wax... i do not know if these things are found objects or constructed forms (later i thought they might be specimens of ambergris, a wax-like substance formed round indigestible objects to protect a whale's stomach and then vomited... a substance much valued and used to make perfumes)

...and i'm reminded the semi abstract forms of afterlife at the beginning of Wyndham Lewis's Human Age: The Childermass, (Methuen London 1928, Jupiter Books, John Calder, London 1965), forms of a post industrial paradise, or purgatory... supernatural yet modern...

...delicate drawings of fish (and even fishing rods) emerging from the vaginas, and mouths, of fairy figures... some resembling Ariel, some Caliban... ('full fathom five'... is this a new version of The Tempest ?)... a skull wearing a sailor's cap and with coffin-like body and hanging bodies of dead fish... held aloft by rope and windlass...

...and amongst this sea-going and fishery is a man in US Army uniform and another in a top hat and black overcoat... both are attempting to draw something, (perhaps against physical restraints of some kind)... and reminiscent of Moby Dick, as well as of The Tempest (Herman Melville's novel and Shakespeare's play, both mythical, and non-realist, and full of similar ingredients)...

...i don't feel that Matthew Barney's ideas of physical restraint, or of imitating the hypotopic development of muscles for athletic contest, is necessary to the inspiring strangeness of the exhibits in themselves... quite apart from his gymnastics...

...and yes, it also reminded me of David Jones's illustrations to S T Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 'Death and Life-in-Death', a copper engraving opposite page 208 in David Jones, The Dying Gaul and Other Writings, edited and with an introduction by Herman Grisewood, Faber and Faber, London and Boston, 1978. the digital diary entry for 11 November 2007 i hope to describe one of Matthew Barney's films (which is also called Drawing Restraint). This and his other films are described in a Serpentine Gallery leaflet as:

Epic in scope... [they] depict a parallel mythological world, rich and complex in its symbolism.

(these pages are designed to be read with the window set to two-thirds of the screen width)

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