March 1 – June 16, 2019
[En anglais] Thirty years after studying at Yale University, Matthew Barney returns to his alma mater with Redoubt (2016–19). Composed of a feature-length film, an artist-conceived catalogue, a series of electroplated copper engravings, and large-scale sculptures, the exhibition dives deep into the artist’s most recent worldbuilding. Loosely adapted from the Roman myth of Diana, goddess of the hunt, and Actaeon, a mortal hunter, Redoubt is set in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. Grounded in the wintry backcountry, Barney adopts the mountainous landscape to carve a narrative arc and produce a series of tools, drawings, and relics. Always one to meticulously detail each imagined universe, this newest vision is abundantly rich with symbols, patterns, and leitmotifs to be discovered and traced.
The eponymous film (2018; 94 minutes) is the central element of the work and carries the themes and images needed to access the exhibition as a whole. Organized into six chapters tracing the loose story of a wolf hunt, Barney intertwines mythology and artistic creation with backcountry survival techniques. Unfolding over seven days and nights, it features Diana (Anette Wachter), protector of wild animals in the form of a present-day sharpshooter. Followed by two attendants, the Calling Virgin (Eleanor Bauer) and the Tracking Virgin (Laura Stokes), Diana stalks an elusive wolf. In this process, she becomes the obsession of the Engraver (Matthew Barney) a stand-in for Actaeon who begins to follow the trio, documenting their actions in a series of copper engravings. At night, the Engraver returns to a trailer by a river where the Electroplater (K.J. Holmes) treats each etching to a chemical transformation. Devoid of dialogue like all of Barney’s previous films, Redoubt relies on choreography to create a storyline and connections between each character. Moving bodies, specifically those of the two Virgins and the Hoop Dancer (Sandra LaMouche of Bigstone Cree Nation), convey the tension of the hunt. Barney has an ability to create alluringly tactile sites, with each location feeling like a unique installation: the Sawtooth Mountains, Diana’s camp, and the Electroplater’s trailer. Captured in crisp high-definition, fresh wolf tracks in the snow, blue-tinted fish tanks, and hunting cartridges become sculptural objects. The visual essay, constructed by an acute selection of materials, lights, and camera angles, scales from the most elemental terrestrial particles to the cosmic universe. Meditatively slow at times, yet also surprisingly suspenseful, Redoubt is compelling in its ability to recast a Roman myth in the American wilderness by staging anthropogenic change in its purest form.
The engravings and sculptural objects found onsite at the Yale University Art Gallery are directly extracted from the film. Expanding on the themes and visual vocabulary of the cinematic experience, Barney produces a series of etched plates that cast Redoubt in another light. Giving a new sense of scale to the film—specifically the engravings, the easel Barney carries into the snow, and burnt trees from the mountains—the transposition of these elements into the gallery is jarring. Traditionally beautiful, the installation lacks the natural grit that makes Redoubt dynamic. Compared to the film, the sculptures seem hollow and somewhat antiseptic. The smell of a charred tree excites the senses, escaping its machined brass and copper encasing, yet the stimulation is momentary. Harvested from Idaho to be installed in a white cube, the depictions of goddesses, nymphs, and wolves lacks teeth, reducing the aesthetics of Redoubt to shiny copper finishes.
Barney was recruited to play football at Yale where he performed the first in a series of studio experiments drawing on athletic training. Though Redoubt revolves around Barney, an ex-jock now embodying the American West as an outdoorsman, the overall project is driven by its strong female leads and their relationships to survival, nature, and craft. The Hoop Dancer rehearsing a traditional dance in the local American Legion building forms one of the films climaxes, an acknowledgment of the continued displacement of Native American tribes and peoples. The Engraver, a terrestrial being, pales in comparison to other characters who possess godly presence and elemental connections to the natural realm. In these poignant moments the artist continues to redefine masculinity as it intersects with the culture of sport and the arts. While at Yale as an undergraduate, Barney garnered attention with his Drawing Restraint (1987–ongoing), a perfect combination of rigorous athletic training regiments and studio practice. In The Cremaster Cycle (1994–2002) he dropped the casual baggy jeans, loose t-shirt, and Nike sneakers for a more complex self-enclosed system of aesthetics, but the references to sport remained clear. These works all benefited from a certain type of messy inventiveness, a distortion of the terrestrial plain generated by a viscerally tangible altered reality. Still strange but slightly more polished, Redoubt announces yet a new cycle in Barney’s oeuvre.