Matthew Barney at MOCA
Videography by Havens Creative
This month The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA will launch it’s most ambitious exhibit of the year with avant-garde filmmaker and artist, Matthew Barney’s River of Fundament. It’s already been an impressive year for MOCA in their post Deitch-era, but bringing Matthew Barney to Downtown is especially significant. This is Barney’s first ever major museum appearance in Los Angeles, and his largest project since The CREMASTER Cycle, his juggernaut series of films from 1994-2002. In his latest epic, River of Fundament, longtime collaborator, composer Jonathan Bepler returns as well as a few key elements and characters from CREMASTER 3. Again massive in scope, Barney’s latest project has been in the works since ’06, and the large scale exhibition of sculptures, storyboards, and illustrations will be accompanied by the film at MOCA.
Loosely based on Norman Mailer’s 1983 epic, crude, and phantasmagoric Ancient Evenings, Barney weaves a multi-layered, surreal, and complex tale that, like his previous films, incorporates the sculptural process of his work. “There are works that appear in the film, and others that deal with the language of the materials, what Barney considers the narrative progression of materials”, Lanka Tattersall, the show’s assistant curator explains. The exhibition’s sculptures “are not a literal translation, it’s not the set, but pieces from the film that are re-configured and transformed.” The film includes the largest non-industrial metal pour ever. “You see that in the film, this incredible moment surrounded my musicians, the film’s characters, and you see the sculpture being created. This idea of working with brass and bronze, focusing on the narrative around these ancient and traditional casting materials. There’s a primeval sensibility.”
Matthew Barney garnered immense and deserved critical acclaim with The CREMASTER Cycle, and this dense, complicated, and otherworldly cinematic series has ties to River of Fundament too. Tattersall explains, “Matthew Barney has worked with interweaving of personal and historical mythologies and here he’s tapping into both Norman Mailer’s novel, and the ancient Book of the Dead, there’s this very broad scope of time.” Broad indeed, as the large scale, sight specific filmic opera’s parallel narrative takes us from Detroit to Los Angeles, capturing the protagonist’s transformations (both physical and spiritual), modern industrial processing in the auto industry, and indigenous music and dance — all while mirroring ancient Egyptian mythology, and of course, Norman Mailer (and his career arc) himself. “It’s also a cautionary tale,” says Tatersall, “about human’s relationship to nature, and a failure of a will-to-power.”
It’s not terribly shocking Mathew Barney hasn’t had a museum show in the land of Hollywood yet, his work as a filmmaker doesn’t quite reach ‘the Hollywood tentacle’. That this new, monumental work comes to LA now, is an exciting landmark for all of LA. Tattersall feels it too, “It makes sense for Los Angeles, being a cinematic town. We’ll be building a cinema in the Geffen itself, which will be a totally new thing.” Expect to see the film while you’re here, but Tattersall explains it best, “The bulk of the exhibition is sculpture, that will reward very close looking. There’s expertly crafted pieces here…and a mystery about them and the film that’s quite wonderful. Matthew is a great storyteller, he raises questions that speak to basic, primal drives. He asks grand questions about what it is to be human.”