February 12, 2014 | by Andy Battaglia
Matthew Barney’s singular new film.
Matthew Barney’s studio, the birthing place of some of the biggest and most ambitious art of our time, sits in an industrial New York netherzone by the East River in Queens. A couple blocks down is a garage for cast-off food carts in states of obliteration and disarray. On the streets stroll workers whose sturdy coats solicit calls to 888-WASTEOIL, for the service of all waste-oil wants and needs. Alongside the studio the mercurial river flows, its current changing direction several times a day.
Inside are forklifts to move things like six-ton blocks of salt and sculpturally abetted Trans Ams. Football jerseys hang on a wall, including one for the fabled Oakland Raiders center Jim Otto (his number, 00, puts Barney in mind of extra-bodily orifices). A staff of a half dozen studio hands oversees projects of enterprising kinds, from building and bracing large architectural oddities to disrupting and destroying sculptures and letting objects rot.
It was here that Barney completed River of Fundament, a new epic film project premiering this week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with a running time of nearly six hours (including two intermissions) and passages that play as extravagantly abstracted and absurd. The film was inspired by Norman Mailer’s 1983 novel, Ancient Evenings, set in ancient Egypt and invested in stages of reincarnation that come after death. The story would not seem to be eminently filmable.
But River of Fundament is not exactly a film. It draws on a series of site-specific performances and elaborate happenings—live actions related to the project date back as far as 2007—and all of them, however cinematically presented in the end, fit as sensibly within the traditions of theater and opera. Shoots lasted for days, doubling as rituals or séances, with characters performing for an audience that would come to be part of the work. Read More »