Matthew Barney's 'Cremaster Cycle' 

Visual Arts Film Review | What you missed

Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, the five-part sequence of films Barney has created in order to explore the nature of American identity, sexuality and the seemingly infinite, rather dark, possibilities of human creativity got a full week’s run at Key Cinemas last week.
I must confess that I didn’t get to view the full package. But, based on what I did see I am able to report that Cremaster appears to be an audacious, fetishistic, arcane, elaborate, stupefying work that’s really not at all bad.
-Marti Domination in Cremaster 1-

The cremaster, for those not yet in the know, is the muscle that controls testicular contractions in response to external stimuli. Just the stuff of epic filmmaking, no? Well, if you’re a self-absorbed obsessive artist with a practically unlimited budget, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” For Barney, this relatively obscure muscle is key to the metaphysics of our sexual being, which taps into our cultural constructions which, in turn begin to explain something about our history on this biologically great continent. Mention of history, of course, suggests narrative.

But Barney has eschewed conventional narrative in favor of deeply intuitive juxtapositions. These films are, quite simply, pictures moving through time. Barney approaches film less as storyteller than as visual artist. In so doing he sets himself a challenge few creative people have either the conceptual chops or, frankly, the resources, to attempt. That is, to take film, our most literalistic medium, and use it to explore the highly subjective realm of dreams and the subconscious.

In the hands of an artist less consumed by his singular vision or more poorly funded, a work like Cremaster might be difficult to bear. As it is, even a taste suggests that more really is, if not exactly better, richer, and that this is a work that gathers momentum and visual sense as its vision is allowed to gestate. Little here seems left to chance; the Cremaster films are rigorously imagined and painstakingly executed. They’re a head trip of the first order.

Kudos to this city’s fledgling museum without walls (so far), iMOCA, the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, for sharing Barney’s vision with the rest of us. It’s worth noting that, in a city whose arts organizations habitually complain about a lack of media attention for their offerings, iMOCA’s Cremaster run scored plenty of full color coverage. This is because Barney and Cremaster are news — an artist of this moment, who has delivered a work some of us are genuinely curious to see.

To learn more about Matthew Barney and the Cremaster Cycle:

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David Hoppe

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