The monumental sculpture Torii stems from DRAWING RESTRAINT 9. Barney’s extensive DRAWING RESTRAINT series began as far back as 1987. Making analogies between athletic and artistic development, the overreaching theme of the series is resistance as a catalyst for growth and creativity. The film DRAWING RESTRAINT 9 presents a man and a woman, played by Barney himself and the Icelandic musician Björk. They meet in a ritual tea ceremony on board the large whaler Nisshin Maru, the flagship of the Japanese whaling fleet. In DRAWING RESTRAINT 9 the action is driven by the dynamics of the relationship between the two protagonists, and their encounter with cultural customs and traditions; while on the aft deck of the Nisshin Maru, a large petroleum jelly form is being moulded as the ship sails towards Antarctica. Barney has described the DRAWING RESTRAINT series as an endless loop between desire and discipline, and DRAWING RESTRAINT 9 sees the story of the protagonists develop until they literally consume each other before transforming into whales. The forces of creation and transformation are forcefully illustrated as the process of forming the petroleum jelly into the shape of Barney’s field emblem – an oval shape, representing the body, bisected by a bar, representing restraint – continues on deck.
The film also explores cultural dynamics between the East and West. The Japanese whaling industry is much criticised in the West, and the use of the Nisshin Maru might be interpreted as a comment on the US’s role in creating the Japanese whaling fleet: General Douglas MacArthur authorised it as one of two factory ships to begin whaling in the Antarctic during the American occupation of Japan.
Torii does not appear in the film but seems both to stem from its setting – the Nisshin Maru – and to continue the film’s merging of different cultural symbols in a sculptural form. The work represents a meeting between different Japanese traditions and reflects the powerful forces that have been set in motion on the ship. The sculpture is based on a crane that is used to lift large whale carcasses on board whaling ships such as the Nisshin Maru. This massive structure seems to have been subjected to an intensive transformation, in which mighty brackets and cables have been ripped off, and it has finally collapsed onto the floor, becoming almost like a carcass. Its soft plastic material and the light colours can contrast with the power, weight, solidity and strength that are normally associated with such an enormous lift arm. Cast in polycaprolactone thermoplastic, a biodegradable polyester that is implantable in humans, the sculpture is characteristic of Barney’s use of materials usually associated more closely with the world of sports and medicine than that of art.
The title Torii is the name of a traditional Japanese gate that marks the entrance to a holy natural site and marks the transition from the secular to the holy ground. There are clear formal connections between the crane and the gate, since the shape of the Japanese torii gate is reminiscent of the crane of the whaling ship. The torii as a visual representation of the transformation from the profane to the sacred, also speaks to key themes in Barney’s oeuvre. In this sculpture, Barney creates a connection between two different cultural traditions – one of industry and one of spirituality.