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Mutation's mitology: Matthew Barney  
Isabella Baroni (english translation by Daniele Miggino)
ISSN 1127-4883     BTA - Telematic Bulletin of Art, July 11th 2000, n. 158 (January 24th 1999)
Artists Area

"Cremaster4" and "Cremaster 5" are two videos presented by the young californian artist Matthew Barney on the 23 and 24 of september at the "piccolo teatro del Rondò di Bacco" in Florence.

The presentation of these works was due to the cooperation of the "Galleria del costume di Palazzo Pitti" and "Pitti Immagine", whose aim is to promote a series of international expositions placed between several aesthetic languages.
Both of Cremaster episodes, which are written, directed and acted by the artist himself, are producted by the Barbara Gladstone Gallery, where Berney made his first appearance in 1991; the all work consists of five indipendent movies and will be presented with world copywright at the Guggenheim Meseum of New York in 2001. The Cremaster cycle refers to that particular part of foetus' life, when it begins to differentiate his sex.

The artist puts on scene a sort of echography, a glimpse of that moment in which the primitive unity, sexually indistincted, is broken. The human being comes to life as a creator of differencies, he create and recreate himself beginning fron an abstract and symbolic "other-self". The continuous crossing through orifices, clefts, mouths, during the treatment of the subject, remarks that the scene where actions take place is an internal scene, a biological inside. It is an internal scene as the "cremaster", a muscle which substains testicles and checks the temperature. But the everlasting mutations and overturnings annihilates any temporal or spatial relation: this prevents from realizing tha difference between an "in" and an "out", a beginning of this process and his end. A definite course connects the scenes of the complete "cremaster" series, still uncomplete, as a sort of psyco-geographical map.

Cremaster 4 - realized in 1994 and presented in 1995 at the Fondation Center - was shooted the Isle of Man at Ireland Sea. Barney plays a kind of satyr, white clothed, fiery red-haired, dancing a tip-tap until he holes the floor and then falling in the ocean where he starts digging the sea bed. Three androgynous fairies, played by three body-builders whit an almost michelangelesque body-shape, follow him in this trip. The satyr will finally reemerge from the other side of the island where a motorcycle race is taking place.

Cremaster 5-which presents a more sophisticated visual language - was shooted at the State Opera House of Budapest, native town of Harry Houdini, the famous illusionist, an inspirer of Barney. This time the artist plays three different characters, the Goddess, the Magician and the Giant; Ursula Andress plays the Queen of Chains. It is hard to define which role all of the characters have in the overall structure of this work, it is rather the narration itself that assumes the aspect of a mythical subject.

The cremaster 4 and Cremaster 5 actings put on scene a ceremonial succession, as an initiation ceremony, which witnesses the passages of the boby from one condition to another one. Barney's predecessors are, as a matter of fact, Harry Houdini but also Jim Otto, a notorious football player, who are considered athlete-artists working on their body to transform it with a psycho-physical discipline. The artist himself was a sportsman. Like several others present-day artists Matthew Barney uses a temporary disguise, which allows him to keep a physical anonymity and to act in his works without being recognized. But the main aim is to put on scene an "exhibition of himself ": that extreme self-reference effect - the showing of his body subjected to a radical extroversion of what is its organs and internal pulsions - cause a short circuit in the subject himself. In this case Barney's work seems to be the common substratum on which all that artistic phenomenology and aesthetic production, that reveals the radicalness attributed to the body in our society, in our culture, in politics, is working today.

The leading actor in Barney's cinematographical epic is a body that breaks crosswise through anatomy and biology, a body writhing in exasperated and useless athleticisms, in physical attempts with no competition but that of getting over himself, that of gratuitously and virtuosly performing "in" and "on" these edge zones. There's a new opened space for corporeity waiting to be pervaded by a new myth. Barney got into the actual debate on gender and sexuality; he recovers an ambiguous humanity, vaguely androgynous, his physical characteristics give contradictory signals. However it is not a sexually unidentified; the kind of humanity he symbolize is caught just before any sexual differentiation comes to be. Every sexual determination is still at a potential state or as J. Baudrillard said "The utopia of sexual difference comes to an end while coming true, in the sexual poles commutation". The product is not the determination of each sex but their confusion and virtual determination. Barney's work, in its epic aspects, reveals itself to be connected with classicism and myth. If the task of the mythical structure is to make distinction, that of gender is the first distinction to be put in doubt. The mythical thought conceives the biology itself as a myth, thus as product of sexual differences: "male" and "female" become a matter of subject, not of anatomy. The relation between subject and desire reveals its ambiguity as the subject comes out to be completely separated from the vital determinations of the body. In other words, the subject's corporeity is disconnected from the organism. The particular care for details as the ornaments, the colour sense of clothing, the hairstyle, that weird sculptural tangle which represents the genitals of his characters, displays clearly that the kind of corporeity Barney wants to show has little to do with his biological destination. The search of the spot where the formal existence of the subject first comes to be (foetus), bring him to find the place where desire has its deeper roots. In the exhibition of himself, the subject puts on scene the drama of his desire, that is first of all, desire of himself.

Although the narration is often obscure and cryptic, Cremaster 4 and Cremaster 5 have an extraordinary evocative strength and the tactile depth that might have a dream from which it's hard to awake. Barney creates a picture with an immediate visual evidence so that overtakes the need to recognize and to decode thick plot and its symbologies, iconographical references, citations. A visual celebration and a triumph for the open-minded cultural liberalism, with which Barney crosses and passes by the visual and cultural patrimony of the past. A triumph for the extraordinary vitality of his images - extreme, redundant, obscene masks - that acquire their vitality from the violent struggle of reality and simulation, and that carry the mythology of a body exposed time after time in its almost manneristic artifice, in its baroque ornamental sumptuosity, in its post-modern dandyism.



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