Matthew Barney sculpts violence in slow motion

Paris. “When I was 17 and playing American football, I wanted to throw myself headfirst into someone, says Matthew Barney. I transposed this desire into art. » The artist’s retrospective analysis echoes “Secondary”, the video installation he is currently presenting at the Fondation Cartier. As a reminder, he was one of the first to exhibit there, in 1995. Seven years later, in 2002, the Museum of Modern Art screened his entire “Cremaster” cycle, whose baroque visual universe in five episodes would have could make us forget the essential: Matthew Barney is a sculptor. And if, once again, his solo is structured around a film, this can only be understood in relation to his practice as a visual artist.

The subject of “Secondary” refers to a sporting accident that occurred in 1978 in the United States: during a football match, the clash between the player Jack Tatum and the receiver of the opposing team, Darryl Stingley, was at origin of the paralysis of the latter. This episode is replayed in a choreography performed by eleven dancers, including the artist. Dissected, slowed down, the action turns into a cinematic sequence (an allusion to the spectacularization of sports broadcasts) while taking on a symbolic meaning. On each of the five screens of the installation, the performers perform a solo, which the film montage uses in a loop, like the motif of a score. Each character was given a subject, “lead, aluminum, terracotta and plastic, with different degrees of liquidity”material with which he was invited to improvise by manipulating it, “in an evocation of strength, elasticity and memory”. But also vulnerability: aged fifty to sixty years old, the dancers, through their aging physique, represent the beginnings of a certain fragility. Each solo composes thus, notes movement director David Thomson, “ a lively sculptural dance ». This dimension is reminiscent of the film Zidane, a portrait of the 21ste century (2005), by Douglas Gordon and Philipe Parreno, a work which also interweaves the codes of sport and cinema with a visual artist’s intention. If it is only in Matthew Barney, the spectator is faced with his contradictions, between scopic tension and empathy.

A disembodied soundtrack

For the soundtrack, Matthew Barney and composer Jonathan Bepler watched a lot, they say, of “Tokyo Olympiads” (1965), a documentary about the 1964 summer games in Tokyo, in which director Kon Ichikawa claims to have wanted to link the seventh art to sport. “ What is striking about the use of sound in this documentary is that it seems disembodied, it produces something disturbing and beautiful which inspired us a lot”, explains Matthew Barney. Offbeat, but very suggestive, with sounds of wheezing and clashes, the sound material of “Secondary” helps to provoke sensations of violence and fear in the viewer.

Matthew Barney, Secondary2023, video capture.

Photo Soren Nielsen

© Matthew Barney

While a vast carpet in the colors of American football deployed on the ground pictorially suggests the space of the playing field, on the screen; a parallel narrative interferes with the scenes taking place there. This second story takes place in the heart of the artist’s New York studio, where we discover a clay trench partly flooded by a broken pipe, like Darryl Stingley’s severed spine. The camera plunges into this pit like a knife into the wound.

Introspective, because it focuses on an event in history which collided, according to Matthew Barney, with his own biography as a young sportsman full of rage and energy, this exhibition also assumes a retrospective form. On the lower level, a selection of the first “Drawing Restraint” videos, started in the 1980s, is presented: they feature drawings exploring the creative possibilities generated by strong constraints, in a spirit quite close to that of Bruce’s protocols. Nauman. A brand new video was also performed on site by dancer Raphael Xavier, his body restrained by a harness, leaving his scars still fresh along the walls.

To produce this exhibition, Matthew Barney’s studio designed it as a system in several parts, synchronizing the programming of the artist’s galleries with his solo at the Fondation Cartier. It’s complex logistics and a unique economic model. From the Gladstone Gallery, New York (May 16-July 26); at Sadie Coles HQ, in London (May 24-July 27), via Regen Projects, in Los Angeles (June 1-August 17), each brand is presenting part of their work this season. In the Parisian spaces of the Max Hetzler Gallery, two sculptures and drawings on paper and aluminum are presented until July 25. As for the Cartier Foundation, it is organizing, at the Christine Cinéma Club in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a screening of the entire Cremaster Cycle, on June 29 and 30.

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