The Cremaster Cycle

From Academic Kids

The Cremaster Cycle is a sequence of five films by Matthew Barney, entitled Cremaster 1 to Cremaster 5. They are named after the cremaster muscle.



Matthew Barney's epic Cremaster cycle (19942002) is a self-enclosed aesthetic system consisting of five feature-length films that explore processes of creation.

The cycle unfolds not just cinematically, but also through the photographs, drawings, sculptures, and installations the artist produced in conjunction with each episode. Its conceptual departure point is the male cremaster muscle, which controls testicular contractions in response to external stimuli.

The project 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" or undifferentiated state, Cremaster 5 the most "descended" or differentiated.

The cycle repeatedly returns to those moments during early sexual development in which the outcome of the process is still unknown—in Barney's metaphoric universe, these moments represent a condition of pure potentiality. As the cycle evolved over eight years, Barney looked beyond biology as a way to explore the creation of form, employing narrative models from other realms, such as biography, mythology, and geology.

The series

Cremaster 1 (1996)

Barney uses many well-known places and people as characters. Cremaster 1 is set in the Bronco Stadium of Boise, Idaho and features two Goodyear blimps each inhabited by a character Barney calls "Goodyear", who directs a symbolic dance below on the AstroTurf.

Cremaster 2 (1999)

This episode focuses on Gary Gilmore, his girlfriend Nicole, his parents' meeting with a fortune teller, his final homicide at a gas station, and his execution symbolized by a rodeo on the Bonneville Salt Flats. A phone call is made to Gary by the lead singer of Morbid Angel in a studio with the drummer from Slayer playing to the drone of bees, a scene said to refer to Gilmore's last phone call from Johnny Cash. The film also connects Gilmore to Harry Houdini (played by Norman Mailer, writer of Gilmore's story The Executioner's Song) and his meeting with Baby Faye Lafoe (represented as Gilmore's grandmother and supposed spiritual medium).

Cremaster 3 (2002)

The third episode features Richard Serra as Hiram Abiff (supposed architect of the Temple of Solomon), Barney himself as a Masonic apprentice, and Gary Gilmore reappearing unearthed as an emaciated girl. This section begins in the Chrysler Building in New York, but shifts into the Guggenheim Museum (New York) for an allegory of the Masonic orders featuring a musical duel between Agnostic Front and Murphy's Law. Aimee Mullins, a paralympic sprinter seen previously in the Chrysler Tower cutting potato wedges with her shoe, reappears as a half-jaguar opponent to Barney. This film concludes with the story of "Fionn versus Fingal the Giant", an old Celtic myth from the Isle of Man.

Cremaster 4 (1995)

This episode is set on the Isle of Man and centers on the Tourist Trophy motorcycle race, re-interpreted as the formative process of gender determination. The racers are deemed Ascending Hack, and Descending Hack, and are followed by Faeries while a Satyr (also played by Barney) journeys to the finish line.

Cremaster 5 (1997)

This final episode is set in Budapest, Hungary, at the State Opera House, the Gellert Baths, and the Lanchid Bridge. Correspondingly Barney plays the Diva in the Opera House, the Giant in the baths, and the Magician on the Bridge (Houdini). All are watched by The Queen of Chain (played by Ursula Andress) while she sings.

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