The Body as Matrix

matthewbarney1.jpg

The Cremaster Cycle – Matthew Barney

CREMASTER 1 (1995) is a musical revue performed on the blue Astroturf playing field of Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho – Barney’s hometown. Two Goodyear Blimps float above the arena like the airships that often transmit live sporting events via television broadcast. Four air hostesses tend to each blimp. The only sound is soft ambient music, which suggests the hum of the engines. In the middle of each cabin interior sits a white-clothed table, its top decorated with an abstract centerpiece sculpted from Vaseline and surrounded by clusters of grapes. In one blimp the grapes are green, in the other they are purple. Under both of these otherwise identical tables resides Goodyear (played by Marti Domination). Inhabiting both blimps simultaneously, this doubled creature sets the narrative in motion. After prying an opening in the tablecloth(s) above her head, she plucks grapes from their stems and pulls them down into her cell. With these grapes, Goodyear produces diagrams that direct the choreographic patterns created by a troupe of dancing girls on the field below. The camera switches back and forth between Goodyear’s drawings and aerial views of the chorus girls moving into formation: their designs shift from parallel lines to the figure of a barbell, from a large circle (more on the cremaster site – http://www.cremaster.net)

CREMASTER 2 (1999) is rendered as a gothic Western that introduces conflict into the system. On the biological level it corresponds to the phase of fetal development during which sexual division begins. In Matthew Barney’s abstraction of this process, the system resists partition and tries to remain in the state of equilibrium imagined in Cremaster 1. Cremaster 2 embodies this regressive impulse through its looping narrative, moving from 1977, the year of Gary Gilmore’s execution, to 1893, when Harry Houdini, who may have been Gilmore’s grandfather, performed at the World’s Columbian Exposition. The film is structured around three interrelated themes – the landscape as witness, the story of Gilmore (played by Barney), and the life of bees – that metaphorically describe the potential of moving backward in order to escape one’s destiny. (more on the cremaster site – http://www.cremaster.net)

CREMASTER 3 (2002) is set in New York City and narrates the construction of the Chrysler Building, which is in itself a character – host to inner, antagonistic forces at play for access to the process of (spiritual) transcendence. These factions find form in the struggle between Hiram Abiff or the Architect (played by Richard Serra), and the Entered Apprentice (played by Barney), who are both working on the building. They are reenacting the Masonic myth of Hiram Abiff, purported architect of Solomon’s Temple, who possessed knowledge of the mysteries of the universe. The murder and resurrection of Abiff are reenacted during Masonic initiation rites as the culmination of a three-part process through which a candidate progresses from the first degree of Entered Apprenticeship to the third of Master Mason. After a prologue steeped in Celtic mythology, the narrative begins under the foundation of the partially constructed Chrysler Building. A female corpse digging her way out of a grave is the undead Gary Gilmore (more on the cremaster site – http://www.cremaster.net)

CREMASTER 4 (1994) adheres most closely to the project’s biological model. This penultimate episode describes the system’s onward rush toward descension despite its resistance to division. The logo for this chapter is the Manx triskelion – three identical armored legs revolving around a central axis. Set on the Isle of Man, the film absorbs the island’s folklore as well as its more recent incarnation as host to the Tourist Trophy motorcycle race. Myth and machine combine to narrate a story of candidacy, which involves a trial of the will articulated by a series of passages and transformations. The film comprises three main character zones. The Loughton Candidate (played by Barney) is a satyr with two sets of impacted sockets in his head – four nascent horns, which will eventually grow into those of the mature, Loughton Ram, an ancient breed (more on the cremaster site – http://www.cremaster.net)

When total descension is finally attained in CREMASTER 5 (1997), it is envisioned as a tragic love story set in the romantic dreamscape of late-nineteenth-Century Budapest. The film is cast in the shape of a lyric opera. Biological metaphors shifted form to inhabit emotional states – longing and despair – that become musical leitmotivs in the orchestral score. The opera’s primary characters – the Queen of Chain (played by Ursula Andress) and her Diva, Magician, and Giant (all played by Barney) – enact collectively the final release promised by the project as a whole. Cremaster 5 opens with an overture that introduces the opera’s characters and lays out the map of Budapest that the narrative will traverse. The Magician crosses the Lánchíd Bridge on horseback. The Queen ascends the staircase of the Hungarian State Opera House with her two ushers. (more on the cremaster site – http://www.cremaster.net)

The Cremaster cycle defers any definitive conclusion.
Cremaster Trailer: http://www.cremaster.net/cc_trailer/cc_trail4.htm
Cremaster Website: http://www.cremaster.net

Advertisements

One thought on “The Body as Matrix

  1. I bought this DVD a couple years ago in efforts to unlock the enigma of what is in media and online. Yeah, it didn’t work. Still don’t get it. I think it would be paramount to the concept and following if ALL of his works were on DVD like this to put together the pieces. Not to mention all of the still images created from the entire series, I am very drawn, but still confused.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s