Wednesday, April 23, 2014

IN PRINT: Okwui Enwezor in conversation with Matthew Barney / Modern Painters / April 2014

Matthew Barney and Okwui Enwezor at Barney's studio, December 2013. Photo by Keith Riley.
These Weary Territories
A Conversation Between Matthew Barney and Okwui Enwezor

On a frigid December morning in 2013, a production on Matthew Barney and composer Jonathan Bepler’s seven-year project, River of Fundament – loosely based on Norman Mailer’s 1983 novel Ancient Evenings – was wrapping up, Barney sat down with Okwui Enwezor and the editors of Modern Painters for a conversation in the artist’s studio in Long Island City, New York. Enwezor is director of the 2015 Venice Biennale and the director of Haus der Kunst in Munich, where the exhibition “River of Fundament” is on view through August 17, 2014.

MODERN PAINTERS: How did you come together on this project?

OKWUI ENWEZOR: I had wanted to work with Matthew years ago when I did Documenta 11, in 2002, but circumstances prevented it. Then in 2011 I went to see Matthew’s exhibition “DJED” at Gladstone Gallery, and for me it became really obvious that I wanted to know more about the development of the piece. Rosalie Benitez sent me information. I had just taken the position as director of Haus der Kunst, and that was the first project that I said I wanted to do.

MP: And where did the project itself begin?

MATTHEW BARNEY: With a conversation with Norman Mailer, about Ancient Evenings. I wasn’t familiar with this book at all. It was critically panned, an although I think he considered it essential, it wasn’t considered essential critically. Mailer said to me, “You should read this. There’s possibly something in there for you.” This was shortly before he died, and the estate at that point was reaching out to filmmakers to work with different Mailer books. Ancient Evenings was probably the odd one out. And so a conversation started at a time when I wasn’t really thinking about filmmaking, having lost my interest during the production of Drawing Restraint 9. Jonathan Bepler and I started talking about working together in a live capacity, with a structure like opera, and along came this text. We needed a text tow work with a libretto, and so we started looking at Ancient Evenings. It has something in it structurally that appealed to me very much, a lot of shifts between the body and the landscape, shifts in scale and time – things that I found easy to like that said, the text came with these seemingly impossible challenges of dealing so directly with Egyptian mythology. All of the frontal sexuality in the book felt like another problem that I wasn’t interested in. So there were a number of things that I didn’t like about it. But I liked the challenge, and that’s where the project started.

Matthew Barney photographed by Ari Marcopoulos in Long Island City, NY, 2014.

To read complete conversation pick up a copy of the April 2014 issue of Modern Painters on newsstands now. 

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