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Couple wearing furs, embracing

Matthew Barney, Maker of Textures, Maker of Myths


Somewhere between fable and hyper-aesthetic, the world of this artist, who happens to be Björk’s husband, melts to create a powerful narrative.

Matthew Barney is a maker of myths –– something like a fabulist who also happens to be a skilled bewitcher of audiences. He has been behind some of the most powerful, odd and beautiful images of the our time, presented in a memorable manner in his Cremaster Cycle, an epic sequence which includes five films launched between 1994-2002. Barney was somehow able to return narrative to the world of art, even if this was in an overwhelmingly abstruse manner. And, just like his pieces, his own evolution as an artist is far from conventional.


Man painted to look like statue, holding birds

In 1985 he was recruited by Yale University to play American Football and while he was there he tried to study medicine and become a plastic surgeon. However, due to his constant trips to New York to visit his mother, an abstract painter, he became submerged in art and in the work of characters like Joseph Beuys and Eva Hesse.

His background in sport also had a great impact on him, especially, in his fixation with the body and the biological pressure and liberation dynamics. Barney uses the idea of physical disability as a driving force for creativity (as depicted in Drawing Restraint 9), that has become one of the disturbing doctrines of his oeuvre. Which, of course, combined with his viscous, creamy and slippery textures make his work a voluptuous and sexy package, which simultaneously remains insurgent. He creates an unforgettable imagery where each shape and texture “casts a spell” on the audience, making them believe that what is depicted on screen is also what the body is feeling, convulsively.

Barney explains that when he creates objects for his films “as literally extensions of my body and I wanted these objects to feel like they had just come out of me or could be put into me”; and idea, which magically, is transferred to every member of his audience. The objects of his work are also carnal —ghosts of the skin— that have been taken away from us or are being given back. An art critic once noted that the purpose of his films was to sustain “through one phantasmagoric image after another, a state of creative redolence”, which resounds as the truth.

Woman swimming in sea with pearls falling out of mouth

In sum, there is a profoundly strangely epic in the strange universe of Matthew Barney, since he is part of the world and does not stop speaking about transformation. His films function as myths because they have been fully imagined and because this organic imagination makes the audience become part of it, thus transforming, often viscerally, in all of it. Those of us who have seen his work already have a white mental room, furnished with amorphous and white objects, with mutilated characters that move in a delightful and disgusting combination of febricity and reality. With Barney’s work we can observe clearly how the scale of a single man’s work can become a persevering fable with resists oblivion or dissolution.

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