Matthew Barney was born in 1967 in the USA. His first solo exhibitions were held in 1991; their combination of physically-testing performance, sculpture and video attracted instant acclaim. He has been making the Cremaster series of videos since 1994. He lives in New York.
Jim Otto was an American footballer of the 1970s, whose determination to succeed at all costs was legendary. Both of his knees were replaced due to injury, but he continued to play, despite excruciating pain. OTTOshaft developed out of Matthew Barney's obsession with this sporting hero, who epitomises a masochistic willingness to transform the body in pursuit of perfection.
Like much of Barney's work, OTTOshaft combines video with an environment of fetishistic sculptural props; in this case resembling a deranged gym. The installation is divided into two parts containing an array of bizarre training equipment, which assume organic, even sexual forms.
The three videos weave images from body-building, American football, and internal biological processes into a series of dream-like visual metaphors. For example, the 00 shirt regularly worn by Jim Otto represents the two orifices of mouth and anus, by which matter enters and exits the body. Protein pills are thrown and caught like footballs; they appear as a variety of substances, from glucose and tapioca, to meringue and cake, suggesting the metabolic conversion of nutrients. Even the recurrent motif of bagpipes fits into Barney's scheme of free-associations: traditionally made from a stomach, they symbolise both the pumping of Otto's internal organs and the transformation of his body into an instrument of art.
Barney himself is the central performer in this work. His feats of athletic prowess, including scaling lift-shafts and towers, show a determination to explore the limits of physical endurance which matches that of the footballer Otto.