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Sculptural form and immersive space: the case of Matthew Barney

Sculptural form and immersive space: the case of Matthew Barney

Mroz, Matilda (2011) Sculptural form and immersive space: the case of Matthew Barney. In: Moving Image and Institution: Cinema and the Museum in the 21st Century, -11 July 2011, Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge. (Unpublished)

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My paper examines the interpretive configurations surrounding sculptor and performance artist Matthew Barney's five-part series for cinema and gallery exhibition, The Cremaster Cycle (1995-2002). The official ‘meaning’ of Barney's work, in which he himself figures in a series of athletic performances, was immediately institutionalized in the catalogue to the 2003 Guggenheim exhibition by curator Nancy Spector. For Spector, Barney's performances are to be read as part of a ‘hermetically-sealed’ symbolic structure, finding their allegorical equivalent in the biological process of determining gender from the moment of conception. On the other hand, several art critics have suggested that Barney’s performing bodies act ‘outside’ of meaning, constituting a pure physicality. My paper considers this interpretive spectrum in relation to a particular section of Cremaster 3 set within the Guggenheim Museum, known as The Order. In this segment, Barney scales the levels of the museum, each of which present particular challenges in the form of other bodies performing particular actions. My paper argues that these bodies become sculptural forms without necessarily becoming fixed in an immediate and obvious allegorical schema; as sculptural bodies in movement and flux, they have an ambiguous status as both affective and referential.

My paper then examines the 2003 Guggenheim exhibition in which The Order was played continuously on large-scale screens in the same place where it was filmed, and the rotunda and adjacent galleries were filled with sculptures, photographs and drawings that Barney produced alongside of the films. By thus utilizing the space of the gallery as part of the artwork rather than merely for its display, Barney, like other contemporary artists whose installations ‘become’ the gallery, used the space to immerse the viewer within the artwork. In the gallery, as Barney has stated, ‘you’re in that space between the object and the moving image, which I’m very interested in.’ I explore the effects of the presence of the sculptures in ‘our’ space, arguing that in fact there is an inescapable sense of loss and temporal disjunction in the installation, as we examine objects that have been used and spaces that have been traversed, but now seem abandoned. While the films draw out the processes of art making and the temporal development of sculptural forms, in the museum we see them fixed spatially, both encouraging and frustrating sensations of the haptic that cannot be consummated.

Item Type: Conference or Conference Paper (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: installation art, texture, object, sculpture, aesthetics duration, Barney
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Humanities & Social Sciences > Department of Communications & Creative Arts
School of Humanities & Social Sciences
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Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 09:23

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