A few years a go, in a reality far far away…
MATTHEW BARNEY, in his Brooklyn studio. He has been struggling to get his new project up and running and is pacing around a table covered with scraps of paper.
MB: Norman Mailer, Norman Mailer! You gave me that “I’m connected with gen-u-wine real art” cachet that I love, then you died! I loved Ancient Evenings‘s delicious blend of cheesy porn and esoteric Egyptian shit, both of us can ride the Book of the Dead to the top of the pile, baby! But I needed more, I needed you to be in my performances … I need something more! I gotta capture the Zeitgeist, man, and your geist is gone! Aw fuck, I need some coffee.
BARNEY goes to the coffee machine and pours himself a cup, then sits down at the paper and grabs the morning newspaper and puts his feet on the table.
MB: Aw, Jesus, the US economy is going to shit. Not good for the art scene, that’s for sure. Fuck, and now Chrysler! It’s pathetic! I remember the good old days, growing up in Idaho, man, the Trans Am was the car to have. The cops loved Ford, but that was about body, not speed. But the Trans Am, it was so cool, with that big old bird on the hood …
Holy shit, I’ve got it! This whole thing can be about the death and transformation of the American muscle car! With all sorts of Egyptian shit on top of it! It’s, like, a parallel for the death of America as an industrial power! And fuck rebirth, it’s just dead, that phoenix isn’t rising. But, oh man, I can do some great stuff with this … I can use cars for each of three segments … fuck, I can do it in Detroit, the fucking beating heart of the American industrial machine, the dead industrial machine, like Osiris, but no golden phallus … I bet I can even get some of those smelters up and running and actually melt down shit! Fuck, this is going to be amazing! I can probably give it some other local ties, to some Motor City artist … and, shit, the Chrysler logo even looks like a religious icon! I’ll stick with the Norman Mailer thing … but I’ll big it up even more and make it an OPERA! Survival Research Laboratories, eat your heart out! I’m riding this baby ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK!
(starts scribbling furiously and picks up his cell phone)
Jenna? You got some opera composers on the short list? I’ve got an idea ….
So two weekends ago I went to Munich, where Matthew Barney has the relics of his latest work, River of Fundament, on display at the Haus der Kunst. In essence, it’s leftovers from the performances that made up River of Fundament, as well as some scraps from the creative process. The various bits didn’t really ring my bell as art, more as items you might find on display at an artistic version of the Hard Rock Cafe. You get his obsession with base metals, with vaseline, with the grottier elements of human anatomy (he just had to love the Osiris/Isis story), but at the same time you could see the underlying thought process tying it together. I’d just seen the excellent Egyptian museum in Munich – all shiny fresh and new – and the elements of the culture and the mythos were all right there in my head, and I couldn’t help but think that both Barney and Mailer were flailing when they tried to incorporate it into their respective works. I suspect both of them were just fascinated like many people are when they learn more about ancient Egypt – but Barney’s nods are very clever and really quite fun (I got a real laugh out of the Boat of Ra).
I can’t imagine, really, why he wanted to do this as an opera, other than to just “jump the shark,” but, you know, if he is able to convince all of these people that he’s doing cool shit and they want to get involved, well, more power to him. It’s a refreshing change from the apologetic patheticness of Tracey Emin and the shallow “I’m really just making shinies for money” of Damien Hirst. Let’s make it big, let’s make it awesome, let’s melt down some cars, roast a pig, and call it an opera. And film it. Because, you know, Matthew Barney, why not. It’s going to be showing at ENO at the end of June and, well, I’ve gone ahead and bought tickets because, you know, even if it isn’t good art, it’s still going to be something worth talking about and, truly, his other movies have created image memories that have stuck with me for years. So I’m giving this a go, and, well, even if its six wasted hours, I’ll be able to say I went.
(This review is for an exhibition at the Haus der Kunst, Munich, and for a film presentation taking place on Sunday, June 29th, and Monday, June 30th. The Sunday show is pretty much sold out but there have been some returns.)