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Matthew Barney is an American artist. He was born March 25, 1967, in San Francisco, California. He lived in Boise, Idaho from 1973 to 1985 where he attended primary and secondary school. In 1989, he graduated from Yale University, New Haven. Over the past two decades Matthew Barney has created a distinctive universe using a multitude of media, from sculpture and photography to drawing and film. Informed by a careful study of art history, cultural production, the human body, and biological development, his work reveals a keen interest in process and the evolution of form.
Barney's early works were sculptural installations fused with performance and video. His singular vision foregrounds the physical rigors of sport and its undercurrents to explore the limits of the body. In this, the artistâ€™s work reflects his own past as an athlete, while also being attuned to a new politics of the body evident in the work of many contemporary artists. Barneyâ€™s ritualistic actions unfolded in hybrid spaces that evoke at once a training camp and medical research laboratory, equipped with wrestling mats and blocking sleds, sternal retractors, and a range of props often cast in, or coated with, viscous substances such as wax, tapioca, and petroleum jelly. Indeed, his earliest works, created at Yale, were staged at the universityâ€™s athletic complex.
The ongoing Drawing Restraint series was begun in 1987 as a series of studio experiments, drawing upon an athletic model of development in which growth occurs only through restraint: the muscle encounters resistance, becomes engorged and is broken down, and in healing becomes stronger. In literally restraining the body while attempting to make a drawing, Drawing Restraints 1- 6 (1987 - 89) were documented with video and photography. Drawing Restraint 7 marks the influx of narrative and characterization, resulting in a three channel video and series of drawings and photographs, for which Barney was awarded the Aperto prize in the 1993 Venice Biennale. A series of ten vitrines containing drawings, Drawing Restraint 8 was included in the 2003 Venice Biennale and prefigured the narrative development for Drawing Restraint 9 (2005). A major project consisting of a feature-length film with soundtrack composed by BjĂ¶rk, large-scale sculptures, photographs and drawings, Drawing Restraint 9 was built upon themes such as the Shinto religion, the tea ceremony, the history of whaling, and the supplantation of blubber with refined petroleum for oil. Drawing Restraints 10 - 16 (2005 - 07) are site-specific performances that recall the earlier Yale pieces.
Barney's epic Cremaster cycle (1994â€“2002) is a self-enclosed aesthetic system consisting of five feature-length films that explore processes of creation. Barneyâ€™s long-time collaborator Jonathan Bepler composed and arranged the filmsâ€™ soundtracks. The cycle unfolds not just cinematically, but also through the photographs, drawings, sculptures, and installations the artist produces in conjunction with each episode. Its conceptual departure point is the male cremaster muscle, which controls testicular contractions in response to external stimuli. The project is rife with anatomical allusions to the position of the reproductive organs during the embryonic process of sexual differentiation: Cremaster 1 represents the most "ascended" or undifferentiated state, Cremaster 5 the most "descended" or differentiated. The cycle repeatedly returns to those moments during early sexual development in which the outcome of the process is still unknownâ€”in Barney's metaphoric universe, these moments represent a condition of pure potentiality. As the cycle evolved over eight years, Barney looked beyond biology as a way to explore the creation of form, employing narrative models from other realms, such as biography, mythology, and geology. The photographs, drawings, and sculptures radiate outward from the narrative core of each film installment. Barney's photographsâ€”framed in plastic and often arranged in diptychs and triptychs that distill moments from the plotâ€”often emulate classical portraiture. His graphite and petroleum jelly drawings represent key aspects of the project's conceptual framework.
Most recently, Barney has explored live performance before an audience. The pieces Ren and Guardian of the Veil revisit the language of the Cremaster Cycle, via a ritualistic exploration of Egyptian symbolism inspired by Norman Mailer's novel Ancient Evenings.
Site of the artist: www.cremaster.net
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