Drawing Restraint 9 grew out of a group of sculptures
I made from 2002 to 2004, following the completion of the Cremaster
Cycle. These pieces were all large, temporal castings of petroleum
jelly, varying in form and volume, and weighing between five and ten
The casting process begins with the arrival of a tanker truck, which
delivers the petroleum jelly heated and under pressure. The hot jelly
is pumped from the truck into a very strong mold. The material cools
for days, or even weeks, depending on the temperature of the material,
the ambient temperature, and the shape and size of the mold. Once cooled,
the mold walls are removed, and the mass of jelly behaves in wildly
unpredictable ways, as it collapses under its own weight. The movement
of the collapsed jelly resembles that of a glacier, its parts very slowly
shearing, sliding and fissuring.
Once the jelly is liberated from its container, the working environment
becomes hostile. Everything becomes coated with and saturated by the
jelly. It’s nearly impossible to move the material with conventional
tools at that scale, so one is reduced to scooping it up into their
arms to move from place to place. The group of us working on these sculptures
imagined a similar, hellish working condition on a whaling boat, and
I began to imagine making one of these sculptures out at sea.
The Nisshin Maru is the only operating factory whaling ship in the world.
I had seen images of her as I started researching Japanese whaling,
but at that point I had no concept of her iconic resonance within the
international debate on whaling. Japan had become my location for Drawing
Restraint 9, and The Museum for the 21st Century in Kanazawa had
become the host for an eventual exhibition of the project. I felt that
the Nisshin Maru was a natural choice to be the main character of Drawing
Restraint 9, and an ideal environment to execute the casting of
a 25-ton petroleum jelly sculpture.
The Japanese Whaling Fleet is owned by a private company called Kyodo
Senpaku, and operated by the Japanese Fisheries Agency, in conjunction
with the Japanese Whaling Association. I first approached members of
the Japanese Whaling Association in the U.S., who were very discouraging.
They warned me of the negative experience they had with previous approaches
from western documentaries and photographers, who had veiled their political
agendas behind their art. I started looking at the video and images
that Greenpeace had released from their anti-whaling missions in Antarctica
and learned more about the war which was under way in the Southern Ocean
between the Nisshin Maru, and the ships and aircraft of the environmental
I proceeded to Japan to meet with the Fisheries Agency, armed with letters
of support from the museum, and still feeling hopeful. The public relations
officer explained to me that the Japanese Whaling Association couldn’t
begin to consider my request to make my project on the Nisshin Maru.
In fact, they couldn’t even allow me to tour the vessel, as its
mooring locations remained undisclosed.
Over the next months, I continued to develop the script. I became fixated
on the traditions of Japanese coastal whaling, which were centuries
old. I learned as much as I could about the relationship between Shinto
and whaling, and discovered a number of festivals and rituals which
are still performed in coastal communities. Some of these traditions
started to influence scenes in the Drawing Restraint 9 script.
I felt quite certain that no meant no with the Japanese Whaling Association,
but I continued to send updated scripts as I would finish them.
I spent the next six months combing the globe through online brokerage
firms for a ship similar to the Nisshin Maru. Commercial fishing vessels
of that size, called super trawlers, were the closest fit. Super trawlers
are literally floating food processing plants, which is not an environment
that welcomes 25 tons of petroleum jelly. They burn upwards of $25,000
in diesel per day. The costs of shutting down a factory and using it
for my sculpture project were becoming prohibitive. On top of that,
the fishing companies who had any interest in the project became very
nervous once they heard the word whale.
Eventually I found an old Japanese-built factory ship in Seattle that
had been sitting in a shipyard for years in line for the scrap heap.
The engines were dead, but she was seaworthy. I discussed a plan with
her owner to tow the vessel up into the Bering Sea in the middle of
winter. He told me I was crazy, that the Bering Sea had some of the
worst seas on the planet. At the same time, the challenge peaked his
interest, and we started discussing how we would do it.
At the studio, we started preparing to work out of Seattle. Though the
script had become quite narrative, the project would now take a turn
toward a more documentary approach. We started to wonder if we could
even keep the petroleum jelly contained in the open mold in such unstable
conditions. The film would be a record of this experiment.
Just as the plan in the Bering Sea was beginning to gain momentum, I
received a call from the Japanese Whaling Association. The scripts I
had been sending were landing on the desk of the historian within the
organization. He had become interested in the project and wanted to
meet in Japan immediately.
In Japan I met with the senior officers of the Japan Whaling Association.
They were compelled by the script, and to my shock, wanted to see the
project happen on the Nisshin Maru. The filming would have to occur
between the dry-docking of the ship and its departure for Antarctica
for the winter hunting season. This was a ten-day window, and this window
would be open four weeks from that day. To be ready in four weeks, and
to shoot out the entire story in ten days sounded impossible, but I
agreed to the conditions and Drawing Restraint 9 went into production.