Sorry for staling on this one, I'm not good at holding together this kind of wide study, it takes me time to re-focus on it. I will eventually get to the bottom of my notes, if there are still readers who care about it.
An art critic on a radio show about Art Brut, brought up an insightful taxonomy of art movements paralleled with certain mental disorder tendencies. The artist is always the lunatic among us... And it was interesting in correlation to Matthew Barney's Avant Garde, and the obsessions in his work we could easily qualify of symptoms.
History of Arts & Psychiatry
- Mannerism (XVIth c.) <=> Obsessive Neurosis
- Baroque <=> Hallucination
- Siècle des Lumières Utopia <=> Rational Delirium
- Symbolism <=> Melancholy
- Art Nouveau <=> Hysteria
- Cubism <=> Schizophrenia
- Surrealism <=> Paranoia
- Body Art <=> Perversion
- Suicide Aesthetics (XXIst c.) <=> Death Pulsion
Matthew Barney's work could correspond to the last three, Surrealism (symbolism, free-association, subconscious inspiration), Body Art (physical performance, body choreography, prosthetics, mutation) and Suicide Aesthetics (fascination of death, decomposition, decay, destruction, mutilation)
Back to DR9, I wanted to describe the time line of the choreographed presence in the film of the Field Emblem sculpture, from beginning to end. Barney documents almost every state of its fabrication, because the making is part of the performance, and probably more important than the finished sculpture, which is in fact destroyed. Although the collapsed sculpture, solidified, is the artwork Barney sells as a "collectible" from a one-time performance. Thus perverting the idea of sculpture that means to produce the perfect replica from the mould, here Barney dismisses imitation and lets chance design the shape of his artwork. The artist only controls the process but cannot direct the final aspect. Actually he's more interested in the aesthetic of decomposition, a state when the object loses its contour. Like the compression of a Chrysler car in Cremaster 5. And the advantage of the petroleum jelly is it "petrifies" a semi-liquid state for ever once solidified. This petroleum cast is called Cetacea, and is obviously a metaphor of the live whale that is absent from the film. And the strange choreography around the mould, almost like a bee dance, contains all the significant subtext of the film. This symbolic message can be decoded however quite intuitively because the visual language is very simple. Actually I wonder what the crew of the Nishin-Maru thought of this "mascarade" and why they agreed to be part of it...
Phases of the Cetacea (Field Emblem)
The sculpture goes through a cycle of the 3 states of matter (gas, liquid, solid), from chemical/artificial (petroleum by-product, which is the result of decomposition of fossil organism) to organic (incorporation of ambergris, shrimp), almost symmetrical, rhythmically composed and marking the evolution/mutation at work on the lower deck between the Occidental Hosts (Barney and Björk), to mirror their "alchemical transmutation". The whole process could remind the slow and sophisticated operations necessary for alchemists to change lead into gold (the secret of the Philosopher's stone).
- AIR (empty) : Mould assemblage.
- LIQUID (chemical) : Fill up with hot petrolatum
- AMORPH (chemical) : Solidification of the petrolatum
- SOLID (chemical) : Bisection of the jelly block in 3 parts, insertion of the mid walls
- SOLID (chemical) : Removal of the petrolatum midsection, retrieval of the white spine
- SOLID (chemical) : Rotation 90° of the mould across the axis of the ship
- SOLID (organic) : Dragging of the ambergris log to fit in the gap
- SOLID (organic) : Rotation 90° back to initial position parallel to the ship axis
- SOLID (organic) : Reconstitution of the midsection around the ambergris log with shrimp and cement (allegory of the digestive restraint in the whale stomach leading to the formation of ambergris) by white clothed children.
- SOLID (organic) : Removal of the ambergris log, which melts down and infiltrates the ship, only remains the black spine
- SOLID (organic) : Midsection filled with more liquid petrolatum
- AMORPH (organic) : Disassemblage of the mould and collapse of the petrolatum into a shapeless cream