Barney’s Water Castings sculptures from 2015 are cast in bronze – an unusual medium for the artist, who is known for creating sculptures in unconventional materials such as thermoplastics and petroleum jelly. The metal Water Castings sculptures are inspired by the mythological and material narratives of the film River of Fundament (2014), whose narrative is partially based on Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings (1983). The novel takes place during a period in Ancient Egypt when great strides were being made in work with metal, casting and alloys, which sparked Barney’s interest in metal and its history as a sculptural material.
The Water Castings sculptures form a series of 14 works that reference the Egyptian myth of the god Osiris, who was killed by his brother and hacked into 14 pieces. The sculptures were created through a unique and innovative casting process developed by Barney, in which molten bronze is poured into pits filled with clay and water. When the bronze comes into contact with the moisture, it displaces the water and thrusts its way into the crevices of the clay in wild, random organic shapes that resemble molten metal explosions. Unlike the method in which monumental sculptures are usually made, as a fragmented process where the various parts are cast individually and then welded together, each Water Castings sculpture is the result of a single continuous event where the bronze is poured into the casting pit in one action. Barney himself describes the sculptures as relics from an action or a performance, a significant element of his artistic practice. The water-casting technique can be considered a material reference to the myth of the Egyptian goddess Isis, Osiris’s sister and wife, who according to legend caused the flooding of the Nile when the tears she shed for Osiris merged with the river. The Water Casting sculptures can be regarded as a material interpretation of the tears of Isis as they touch the river. Through their references to the myth of Isis and Osiris – the god of resurrection and reincarnation – the Water Castings sculptures evoke the Egyptian mythology of River of Fundament as well as the overarching themes of transformation and transcendence that runs through Barney’s entire artistic practice.
The title Water Cast 12: White Dwarf refers to the stellar phenomenon of a white dwarf, a compact star that no longer generates energy. Considered the final evolutionary state of stars that cannot become neutron stars, a white dwarf’s luminosity stems from its emission of stored thermal energy. As such, it makes a telling metaphor for early concerns of Barney’s practice, such as the effort to retain the energy generated by physical endeavour in order to create an entirely self-contained system that is addressed in Facility of DECLINE (1991). Water Cast 12: White Dwarf is the only one of the 14 Water Castings sculptures that has been partially dipped in polycaprolactone, a malleable plastic, making it a fascinating hybrid of materials. Thus, the sculpture connects Barney’s sculptural history, featuring his characteristic and innovative use of plastic materials, with his new and very original sculptural exploration of the more traditional bronze.