Pop star Björk Gudmundsdottir promoted Drawing Restraint 9, a film by her partner, visual artist, Mathew Barney, in an interview shown on the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service news program Kastljos (Spotlight) last night. Both Mathew and Björk appear in the film and the soundtrack is composed by Björk.
According to a press release on her website, the two hour and fifteen minute work was shot in Nagasaki Bay onboard the Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru.
In the interview Björk appears without makeup or fancy costume. Facial expressions and hand gestures emphasize her refreshingly simple explanations.
Björk said that the film was different from the typical Hollywood movie. Drawing Restraint 9 came from the art world and was based on the performance art films of the 1970s.
Stating that she was not an art critic, Bjork said “we are filming how sculptures are made”.
In the interview Björk says that Mathew Barney is first and foremost is a sculptor, “if you would ask him what he did for a living he would say sculptor. In the movie he allows himself to create a mythology of how the sculptures were created.”
Björk details this by giving an example: “There is not just a sculpture on the floor but a story – when this young woman came and turned into an animal and then she went through a circle and then something fell from the air and went up and flew through something else – I am just making this up – talking nonsense – and then you see the picture of it – the film – and then you see the sculpture and this mythology which is the other half of the story and he greatly emphasizes that so in the film you can see a collection of sculptures being made by characters that are all somehow connected. You know this is more like when you read mythology. He is making homemade mythology.”
In the press release, Drew Daniel explains the concept in the following words: “Its core idea is the relationship between self-imposed resistance and creativity, a theme it symbolically tracks through the construction and transformation of a vast sculpture of liquid vaseline, called “The Field”, which is molded, poured, bisected and reformed on the deck of the ship over the course of the film. ”
Björk says that it was a Japanese museum that asked Mathew to undertake a project along these lines.
Björk said that, as an Icelander, she thought it remarkable that the first thing he thought of was Hiroshima, Nagasaki. She went on to explain that this was similar to a Dane asking Icelanders to do a project and the first thing “we” (Icelanders) would think of was “we were under their rule for so long”, Björk goes on to say “you know that this is such old baggage that it is difficult to shed.”
She says she found the work interesting to observe from an Icelanders point of view. She adds that she also found it interesting that he thought of a story he had once read about a general called MacArthur that ruled the area.
“He [General MacArthur] noticed that the bombings did not only kill and melt many people but for many years the conditions were difficult. There was unemployment and for many years people starved. There was no food or anything. He took matters into his own hands and convinced the Japanese to change their war ships into whale factories, something like freezing plants on the sea. He convinced the US government – there was some regret there which is uncommon among generals – to maybe revoke the whaling ban for them and so they went out to sea and hunted, and hunted, and hunted whale. They ate whale meat and made clothing out the whale skin and sold whale, everything was connected to the whale. And this helped the Japanese economy to recover. And then the Japanese, like they are, started sending thousand and thousands of packages to the general – letters in childish English.”
Björk explains that she and Mathew made texts from of the contents of the letters in which the Japanese thank the general for saving them “in this big way”.
“As an Icelander, I found it strange that five minutes earlier they [the American general] had been bombing them [the Japanese] to pieces and then they thank him oh so much”
She says that this was one of the reasons why she asked Wil Oldman to sing, “he is of course an American and even though he is from my generation and it is so long ago since these things happened, there is still this baggage. You know he was just born in some country called the United States and wakes up in the morning and starts to compose a song and in spite of this, he carries around all this baggage – strange.”
In his press release Drew says, “Björk’s soundtrack for Drawing Restraining 9 shows a refreshingly open-hearted capacity to take Japanese history and culture both seriously and creatively, forging a poetics of translation which is as thoughtful as it is insistently new. ”
Björk concluded by saying that she is on vacation in Iceland and has not had such a long vacation since she was 10 years old but even then she was “selling newspapers”.
The television interview is available online here.