The Cremaster Cycle is a five-part art installation created between 1994 and 2002 by 36-year-old Californian sculptor-cum-filmmaker and Yale graduate, Matthew Barney. Apart from his art, Barney is best known as the partner of Bj? with whom he has a daughter Isadora.
The cremaster, for those of you unfamiliar with this key piece of male anatomy, is the scrotal muscle which controls testicular contractions in response to external stimuli. Barney uses the muscle and his films as vehicles to explore sex, myth, redemption, death, rebirth and contemporary culture. The cycle takes you on a journey from representations of the most undifferentiated ascended state (Cremaster 1) to the most differentiated or descended state (Cremaster 5). It helps to remember that the key is the scrotal muscle and that the pieces were not made in numeric order. Barney says that his films aren’t to be read as cinema but rather as sculpture in the context of exhibited artefacts and land art. Think David Lynch and David Cronenberg mixed with high camp, esoteric themes, punk rock music, sculpture made from Vaseline and virtually no dialogue or narrative. Barney has written, directed, produced and edited the films. He also acts in four of them and choreographs the dance sequences.
Currently Barney’s work is on a world tour, from the Guggenheim in New York to the Tate Modern in London, where I recently caught Cremaster 5. Now Sydney audiences are having the opportunity to see the whole cycle, spread over five films and seven hours. This is definitely not for mainstream filmgoers but, if you’re willing to take this weird, epic ride into the self-indulgent world of Barney’s imagination, be prepared to be astounded and assaulted by art.
The Cremaster series includes many incredible images. A woman hiding under a table on an airship directs a Busby Berkeley-style musical, complete with period music and choreography, on an indoor American football field. Executed murderer Gary Gilmore (played by Barney) and Harry Houdini (played by the writer Norman Mailer) act out an episode which focuses on metamorphosis and puberty. The films climax across three long hours featuring everything from rampaging giants, Gilmore’s resurrection, the Chrysler and Guggenheim buildings, a woman with glass legs and duelling punk rock bands.
The Cremaster Cycle will screen for a limited season from Thursday 5 August at Cinema Paris, Fox Studios. There are three sessions daily: Cremaster 1+2 @ 3:30pm; Cremaster 3 @ 6pm; Cremaster 4+5 @ 9:30pm. A Crem pass is available so that patrons can see all five parts of the cycle over several days if desired, for a discount price.