Fan Letter to Matthew Barney
Fan Letter to Matthew Barney
Cc: Norman Mailer and David Walsh
I’m writing to say I love your work and I’m sorry you didn’t get to meet me when you were out here recently for your MONA show. I wanted to see your new six-hour epic film based on the Norman Mailer book that nobody except William Burroughs rated. I love famous people and famous people love me too because I say interesting things. Famous people are rich from whatever they did to get famous and with all that money, they’re, I mean you’re, self assured and not at all easy to offend. Which I like. I like that you can just see the money haemorrhaging from your work. It’s reassuring that artists can get funding to do crazy stuff.
Matthew, I reckon you like famous people as much as I do. You always put famous people in your movies and they come to your Premieres, which feeds the media. I wanted to ask you who is more famous: Matthew Barney, MONA, or Norman Mailer? What do you reckon? And then I wondered who has made the largest cultural contribution? Matthew Barney, Norman Mailer or MONA? Curly questions huh? Right out of the sun. Whose artistic oeuvre (I love that word, so French) embraces extravagance more? Yours, Norman’s or MONA’s? We’ll need some time to work them out. History always sorts all that stuff out though.
We have a lot in common, you and I. You used to be a fashion model. So did I. Tough gig that one. Very objectifying. Limited shelf life too, modelling. Like art, you realise your career is dependent on others and how they see you. Anyway, if you had have met me (I was invited to your private cocktail dinner where, I was told, they served emu), what I wanted to talk to you about was your ex Björk.
I have a famous partner too. Some say we’re a Melbourne Art Power Couple. I don’t like the title, but hey, you can’t stop people talking. His name is Morgan. He’s a musician like Björk/I’m an artist like you. It’s difficult being with Morgan. Every time I go out without him, everyone is always like: ‘Where’s Morgan, I want to see Morgan, we love Morgan, he’s so funny and talented! What’s Morgi been working on, when’s he playing next?’ And I’m like: “What am I? Chopped liver or something?” I know it’s not a competition, but it makes me feel less interesting than him, even though when we’re on the red velvet couch alone, we’re very interested in each other… Even after 13 years! Being a creative couple is a minefield and that’s before we get into the whole creative ego thing.
I thought I might reassure you Matthew and say: It’s OK. I understand why you and Björk couldn’t stay together. A small comfort I know, but thoughtful. Then I thought down deeper and I thought you and Björk were like John and Yoko but with the genders switched round. John and Yoko for a new era. Björk is the world famous music legend, like John was and you are the avant-garde artist, like Yoko, who, though well respected within a world of art, is forever doomed to live outside mainstream success. Its lucky Björk is a solo artist Matthew, or you could have been blamed for breaking up the Beatles! IMAGINE! See what I did there? That Björk. She’s the talented elephant in the room.
Here’s a great link to John Lennon’s Jealous Guy from 1971. He’s apologising to loads of different women for being a jealous guy. You should watch it. It’s hard being the Yoko yeah? Poor thing.
After that (and this is where our meeting could have turned, but that really depends on you and how open you are to creative suggestions from complete strangers), I would have told you (if we had have met if I wasn’t busy), that I think you could learn something from your former love in the duration department of your creative impulses. The short form (3-4 minute pop classic) vs. your 6-hour durational endurance ordeal videos thing. Maybe you’re a Tantric man like Sting. The whole Telethon vibe.
Matthew, I think you might at least experiment with the shorter form, like a sketch, a summation of all your ideas expressed with brevity. Experimentation is good. At the planning stage, try asking yourself: “what is it I’m trying to say and what’s the fastest way to say it?” Just try it the once, see if you like it. Please. Because all your work is so long if you don’t change it up a bit occasionally, then people are going to be like: ”Oh that Matthew Barney is a one trick pony. His works are always demanding so much of me; you know what I don’t have another 6 hours of my life to give over to that! Sure there’s moments of amazing insight, but can’t he just edit out the excruciatingly indulgent bits and save us all the pain? I don’t even really know what he’s trying to say even! His work makes me feel dumb and when the operatic event which is really a film screening is over, when I’m sure I’ve survived, I drink too much to numb the pain of sitting down for so long. And I’m trying to ease back on the binge drinking. At the Pub, the talk is all like: “Yeah sure. I agree. I think the joke is on us!” I don’t think you want people thinking that Matthew. Just saying…
River of Fundament, which I’m sorry I missed by the way, is about Death and Rebirth. That reminds me of the Björk song There’s more to life than this
I like when she says: “Let’s sneak out of this party, it’s getting boring, There’s more to life than this”. People getting bored and walking out. I like that woman!
Björk Big Time Sensuality
Björk Human Behaviour
Matthew Barney. I’m glad that you’re into humour. I love a laugh too. I liked when you said: “I’m definitely interested in humour, that humour that sits on the edge of discomfort, a kind of embarrassment, even if it’s expressed through material ways.”
A pooh wrapped in gold potpourri and fashioned into a penis, for example? Barney pauses for a long time. “Maybe embarrassment is too specific a word. It’s more about the tendency for things to fail or for things to fall.” I’m into that too.
Can you release your River of Fundament on Netflix or on Quickflix or one of those game changing platforms, so I can sit at home and watch it from the comfort of my house? Possibly do some fast-forwarding. I know you’re really into exclusivity, but hey, one screening on a Friday arvo in Hobart is so exclusive its almost career limiting. You could be losing audiences.
Anyways, I’m almost finished with you, but before I go, I need to talk to you about Norman Mailer. I like Norman too; I’m not one of these feminists who doesn’t like the lads. I love the men. The good men. I like Norman Mailer even. Not so much the stabbing-the-wife-with-the-penknife thing, but I like that he co-founded The Village Voice. That’s way cool. I like that. Norman wanted to rescue Marilyn Monroe. From herself. Bit presumptuous. And his counter-cultural essays, The New Journalism. I’m doing something new too, like Norman did. I call it the New Review, it’s an art review but sometimes I don’t even see the art. Sometimes my New Reviews are bigger than art, other times they’re not. I remind me of Mailer’s The White Negro, radical, hip, a bit of a fashion victim.
I like how you put Norman in Cremaster 2 as Harry Houdini. That’s clever when you call up the old legends and put them in your work and then your names are forever associated. Funny really, cause that’s what I’m doing to you now Matthew. Warhol knew the power of association best. The media, celebrity culture, notoriety, wow, they’re big themes too.
So look. I’ll just put it out there, if you ever need me to be in one of your movie’s/video’s, sure thing, I’ll do it. A few people have said I look great on the big screen, though they wish I had have worn a bra. My breasts bounced up and down, up and down as I walk slowly toward the camera, following direction faultlessly. I was a welcome addition on the set, everyone was like: “Gee Nat. You’re good on a set”. Collaboration is great isn’t it?
Anyway, Matthew, I’ve attached a link to an unexpectedly entertaining Interview from 1984 between Mailer and, wait for it, Oprah Winfrey. You’re going to love it. It’s better than that footage with Germaine and her friends that you’ve probably seen already. Oprah is young and holds her own. Introducing Norman to her audience you can tell she’s excited. You can see how Oprah has been able to become an Institution. Oprah really connects with her audience. That’s what you’ve got to do.
I don’t believe for a second that Oprah’s popularity can be put down to her ongoing struggles with weight and how that links her to a super large portion of Americans. Those rumours about her and Gail are just slanderous. They’re friends for Christ’s sake, nothing more. Good mates.
“In fact, the more you read about River of Fundament, the more it seems that admiration or hatred for it is divided along gender lines.”
Alex Needham, The Guardian
Matthew Barney River of Fundament
MONA 22 NOVEMBER 2014 – 13 APRIL 2015