June 14th, 2005


Drawing Restraint 9

Fans of the artist and musician Mr B in the 1970s were kept on the edge of their seats, primed for exciting announcements. Mr B had shaved his eyebrows to play a kabuki rockstar called Ziggy! Mr B would make a musical based on Orwell's 1984! Mr B, halfway through his tour, has become a singer of "plastic soul"! Mr B appears in a television documentary showing us his collection of "woodland creature" costumes! Mr B plays a space alien in Mr R's new film! Mr B has moved suddenly to Berlin and is experimenting near the wall with Professor E and Mr P!

Elderly fans of Mr B might tell you that no contemporary artist—including Mr B—is that exciting these days. No artist startles and stretches you with creative ambition, dazzles and dizzies you with sound and multimedia spectacle, to quite that degree any more. But wait, what if we count two artists as one? Might not the team of Mrs B, the singer, and Mr B, the visual artist, compare?

Bjork and Matthew Barney are married. They've just announced their first major collaboration, a film and accompanying soundtrack album called Drawing Restraint 9. Like a lot of other people, I find myself very excited at the announcement, especially when I listen to soundclips like Ambergris March, which features processed harpsichord, or look at stills from the film, set on a whaling ship in Nagasaki Bay.

Drawing Restraint 9 is a follow-up to Mr B's excitingly strange and beautiful Cremaster series of films, with Bjork's soundtrack replacing the Jonathan Bepler scores we're used to. The film concerns the theme of self-imposed limitation and continues Mr B's interest in religious rite, this time focusing on Shinto. At one point a below-deck tea ceremony is flooded with liquid vaseline, at another the Bs, breathing through blowholes in the back of their necks, take out flensing knives and cut away at each other's feet and thighs.

I'm excited that the Bs have chosen a Japanese backdrop (Mrs B looked so nice as a pomo geisha in Nick Knight's photograph for her Homogenic album), I'm excited by the "folktronic" sounds of the samples (Mrs B really has a great talent for radical arrangements, Antarctic wails and dark out-of-tune brass), and I like the "otherness" evidenced by the photographs. I expect the film, which I shall certainly see when it comes out (it's premiered in Japan on July 1st), to combine the mysticism of Tarkovsky's Nostalgia (will he reach the other side of that Russian bath with his candle still lit?) with the violent sensuality of Oshima's In The Realm of The Senses (will she really flense her lover's member?). I expect it to be the most boring and yet also the most exciting and resonant film of the year. I love to be piqued by incomprehension, baffled into tingles by strangeness, as I was, for instance, this weekend by a presentation of In Mikronesien, a performance based on Jules Verne texts featuring actress Jeanne Balabar and choreographer Boris Charmatz.

Just as Mr B's interviews in the 1970s were full of startlingly bold yet sympathetic statements, Mrs B's interviews, at a time musicians mostly avoid giving offense, are full of radical moral positions: "She would never wear jeans and a T-shirt, she says, because they are 'a symbol of white American imperialism, like drinking Coca-Cola'."

We have mostly killed the shamen, their rites and languages. That's why it's important that artists should be inventing new rituals, new forms, new strangenesses. Truly strange and inventive artists quicken our pulses. I have even been, myself, for a few, for a while, an artist marked by the white stone of high expectation, an artist who courted spooky strangeness and made ambitious announcements. Mr M is in Hokkaido broadcasting the sound of boats squelching against harbour wall tires! Mr M is in a New York gallery "generating continuous landscapes" for a month using only his voice! Mr M, according to Pitchfork once upon a time, "seems almost fictional, and is sure to quickly gain cult status among the Anglophilic, educated, and fashion sensible. I'm just surprised Bjork hasn't dated him yet."

In the end I got something much better than a date from Mrs B. I got to watch her marry my favourite visual artist and witness their exciting collaborations. Together, today, they make a lunar pantomime horse act quite as radical as the erstwhile Mr B and his imaginary friend Ziggy.