Friday, February 4, 2011

Mathew Barney "Cremaster 4: The Isle of Man" 1995

Raging sounds of motor engines, testicle muscles, racy costumes, and sexual body fluids are among most of the prominent masculine elements Mathew Barney elegantly packs into his fantasy world created in the Cremaster Cycle. This video excerpt is from Cremaster 4: The Isle of Man and was the first series out of the total five which was released in 1994. The Cremaster Cycle is about the creation process. What may be observed by these films, are that they explore the continuous fluctuation of muscles and especially the key moments of growth that happens before and after the muscles and restrained and released. For this reason, it is helpful to know that the cremaster is the muscle that is suspended to the testicles. In addition, this muscle contracts with stimuli such as cold and fear. Moreover, there is a strategic time in the womb when a baby’s genitals will either ascend or develop to determine its gender. Similarly, this time occurs in teenage goats, which explains the metaphorical work that Barney draws heavily on to communicate ideas of sexual ambiguity, identity, and the body’s transformation potential.

Barney is an American artist who graduated from Yale, training in sculpture, photography, drawing and film. His mastery of these arts is clearly apparent in his quality presentation films, where he stars himself as the main figure in film. As can be seen in Cremaster 4: The Isle of Man, Barney is the goat-like satyr in orange hair, ears and a blazing white suit appearing symbolically in the state of gender ambiguity. He tap-dances until he creates a hole in a pier floor, falls through, is submerged in the ocean, pushes his body through a tube filled with slimy vaseline, and finally finds himself sitting in the grass with whimsical creatures. Throughout these scenes, we hear and see clips of motorbikes. The video then ends just before two motorists are about to ram into each other.

Commenting on his work, the artist remarked to the critic Roberta Smith in 1997: “I want to get at the moment of freedom between things, between formlessness and form, which is the exciting moment, the moment of conflict. The goal of the work isn’t about something being fulfilled but about setting out to find perfect symmetry, true equilibrium. I think of it as a tragic goal; the pursuit of it is what the narratives into the videos are based on.” According to our college textbook on contemporary artists, “Mathew Barney’s art simply bewildered many older viewers, even while ravishing them with beauty. It also bewitched younger ones, who seemed quite effortlessly to find the works mysterious but meaningful…” Also, critic Michael Kimmelman proclaimed that Cremaster, “…gives us an inspired benchmark of ambition, scope, and forthright provocation for art in the new century.”

Although many viewers are taken aback by the horrific things Barney chooses to film, they may challenge themselves to look beyond what the images convey, and deeper into the rich meaning and metaphorical issues that are very much a reality of our humanity and experience. As Barney himself stated, “I don’t think my work is so strange. It’s just a matter of having the discipline to go the whole way with an idea, to stretch it as far as it can go.”

Barney’s additional works include:
Mile High Threshold: Flight with the Anal Sadistic Warrior
(Influence: Athletic performers or escape artists as Harry Houdini and football legend Jim Otto)
Guardian of the Veil, 2007
Drawing Restraint series of performances and works since 1998

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