In this large sculpture, the white shell of a teahouse appears to have ruptured, revealing a space awash with the archaeological remnants of a tea ceremony. This enigmatic work, titled after the rules of Japanese tea ceremonies, alludes to Shinto tradition and tenets about the natural world and represents the symbiotic but troubled relationship between humans and nature.
The sculpture is related to Barney's 2004 film Drawing Restraint 9, a collaboration with the Icelandic musician Björk. In the film the teahouse—on the Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru—is the site of an elaborate tea ceremony and a visceral love scene between Barney and Björk. A storm shakes the ship, and the teahouse is flooded with petroleum jelly. The partially submerged couple undergoes a violent and ritualized metamorphosis into whales.
To make this symbolic sculpture, Barney cast the teahouse in petroleum jelly. When it collapsed he cast the remains in thermoplastic, a durable industrial material. Thus the artist conceived a transformative process analogous to the harvesting and processing of whales and, particularly, to the extraction of oil from blubber. The film and sculpture both address the intersection of artistic, biological, and industrial transformations epitomized by imagery of the whale harvest.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 225.