Matthew Barney’s cinema is fetishistic about ritual. Dislocating the gestures and movements of (sometimes imagined, otherwise heavily abstracted) rituals from any easily-interpretable meaning, his ‘narrative sculpture’ uses a microcosmos of small details instead as pornography.
Björk’s language links every thought to a physical act. It’s almost sex magic.
When she is writing about negotiating another human being, this translates most literally to sex, but even when discussing the more abstract, interpersonal stuff: feelings, thoughts, the rendering of these thoughts in physical expressions becomes almost sexualised.
Through her work, but in 2001’s Vespertine particularly, her body is consistently presented as an interface that can manipulate internal monologues and anxieties with her mouth or fingers, even her womb.
“Who would have known? A train of pearls cabin by cabin. Is shot precisely from a mouth. From a mouth of a girl like me. To a boy.” It’s most obvious visual counterpart is the scene from Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9, where, in a flooding tearoom aboard a Japanese whaling vessel, Björk and Barney lovingly slice at each other with flensing knives in a delicate abstraction of sex.
Perhaps it was Barney’s response track. Vespertine is, of course, insatiable with love and other hunger for him.
“Through the warmthest cord of care. Your love was sent to me. I’m not sure what to do with it. Or where to put it.” Björk becomes hyper-literate with longing. “He’s. The beautifullest. Fragilest. Still strong. Dark and divine. And the littleness of his movements. Hides himself.”
“Who would have known: miraculous breath. To inhale a beard loaded with courage.”
In lyrics omitted from the album she writes of “Having an ocean of desire. Having a hairy desire around the hips. Having eyes that can see in the dark. And too much space between the legs.”
Her lover is a thing which hides, can make itself invisible, which nestles into her bosom like an animal. She hibernates, finds sanctuary in the immensity of his his hair and smell, and traces his topography in nature: “A mountain shade. Suggests your shape. I tumble down to my knees. Fill the mouth with snow. The way. It. Melts. I wish. To melts with you.”
Cocoon is a relatively straight and unpretentious sexual anecdote: Björk and Barney making love in sleepy rapture, she eventually waking to find him still inside of her. She doesn’t destroy the moment with floweriness, but instead remarks upon it with classic Bjork exclamation point directness: “Gorgeousness!”
The detail of the words make the piece magical. There are no cringes. It is hard to write about sex. The only piece of music I can think of which has ever attempted to articulate the same scenario as something profound is Ari Up’s abysmal farewell note, Lazy Slam.
Drawing Restraint 9 and Vespertine feel like natural counterparts, more so than Björk’s own Drawing Restraint 9 soundtrack (a limb of Drawing Restraint itself, rather than an inspiration for or response to it). Drawing Restraint 9 isn’t about love, though it seems to use love as a machine for thinking about other things.
But isn’t that what love is anyway? Many critics found Drawing Restraint 9 tedious. You could read Barney’s obsessively detailed mindgames with ceremony as endurance tests – something the viewer must pit themselves against, almost physically, the way the other installments in Barney’s 19-strong Drawing Restraint series of sculptures, photographs, drawings and books pit Barney’s own body against different types of physical resistance. But maybe, like his other half, Barney is just tentatively mapping out a new language, one better for thinking in. We can’t express thoughts about the post-WWII American occupation of Japan, Shinto, biology, whaling, petroleum, and sex all at the same time easily in words, after all.
Buy Vespertine from Boomkat
Find out more about Drawing Restraint here