"the first truly great piece of cinema to be made in a fine art context since Dali and Bunuel filmed Un Chien Andalou in 1929."
The Cremaster cycle is a culmination of nearly a decade of works from American artist Matthew Barney consisting of sculpture, photographs, drawings and five feature length films. Loosely based conceptually on the male cremaster muscle , Cremaster is rife with anatomical allusions to the position of the reproductive organs during the embryonic process of sexual differentiation: Cremaster 1 represents the most "ascended" state, Cremaster 5 the most "descended" state. During the cycle's evolution Barney began to employ narrative models from other realms, such as biology, mythology, and geology, as a way of exploring the creation of form. Writer Jonathan Jones has called it "one of the most imaginative and brilliant achievements in the history of avant-garde cinema," referring to it as a "megastructure of myth and symbol; from Mormonism to masonic ritual to Celtic legend." Not unlike T.S. Elliot's The Waste Land or Jessie L Weston's From Ritual to Romance, Barney's Cremaster seeks to find pattern in chaos. Set alongside an original score by gives off an almost horror-film aesthetic of hybrid creatures and haunted spaces that has been likened to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, for it's vitality and menace. The cycle was displayed in The Guggenheim Museum in 2003 as a "self-enclosed aesthetic system," the centerpiece of of which was a five-channel video piece suspended in the middle of the Rotunda - each screen showing different footage from The Order,a sequence from Cremaster 3 shot in the Guggenheim. Staged as a perverse competition with Barney as its sole contestant, The Order deployed five levels of the Guggenheim's spiraling ramps in an allegory representing the five chapters of the cycle.
"Barney's rich yet fragile, vast yet humorous, indulgences of the mythic imagination have more in common with an 18th-century pleasure garden than they do with current art. He creates meaning and destroys it with careless, and frightening, ease. Here is a world that is as real as a dream, and as impossible to make sense of, outside its self-contained cinematic space. You can theorise it, analyse it, tell stories about it. But the magic has already disappeared."-Jonathan Jones
For more visit The Guggenheim's overview of the 2003 exhibition and check out some clips from I Die Daily, a feature length documentary by Matt Wallin that captures Barney’s enigmatic process, creativity and resolve.