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River of Fundament

February 12, 2014 | by

Matthew Barney’s singular new film.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament: Ren, 2014, Production Still. Photo: Chris Winget. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament, 2014, Production Still. Photo: David Regen. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney, Djed, 2009-2011, Cast iron and graphite block, 20 1/4 x 406 x 399 inches (50.2 x 1031.2 x 1013.5 cm). Photo: David Regen. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament: Khu, 2014, Production Still. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament: Khu, 2014, Production Still. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament, 2014, Production Still. Photo: Keith Riley. © Matthew Barney.

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 »

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Denigrate Your Enemies, Shakespeare Style

February 6, 2014 | by

Lear BAM

Photo: courtesy of BAM

Last night I saw Angus Jackson’s King Lear, now at BAM, with a spry, sturdy Frank Langella in the title role. Langella was astonishing—he does high dudgeon, he does piss and vinegar, he does grief, perplexity, and weariness. His rimy, bellowing voice belies a surprising range, especially in the later acts. Lear dodders around, benighted, mad, machinating and fulminating to no one.

I haven’t read Lear in a while, and I’d forgotten that it has some tremendous insults in it—as befits a play about a graying, cantankerous head of state. I have a thing for archaic insults. They carry all the rancor of their modern-day counterparts, and with the added advantage of unfamiliarity—you called me what? The result is pure, clean-burning rage. It’s not unlike seeing someone mouth off in a country where you don’t speak the language.

Shakespeare, being Shakespeare, really knows how to deliver a good tongue-lashing—the theater has always been an ideal venue to see people go off on one another, and accordingly his plays are zested with putdowns. These are, I think, great fun to try on your friends. (And then, later, once you’ve mastered them, on your enemies.) Read More »

6 COMMENTS

Instead of the Cross, the Albatross

November 27, 2013 | by

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We love the Poetry Foundation’s Record-a-Poem project, in which users are encouraged to read aloud their favorite verses using SoundCloud. Now, in conjunction with its upcoming performance of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, BAM is partnering with the program, collecting recorded interpretations of a segment of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem; they will ultimately edit and compile the audio into a crowd-sourced animated video featuring as many voices as possible. The deadline is December 1, so take a few moments out of your holiday weekend to be part of something cool! Find the excerpt below, and see full details here.

From Part II of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue, and white.

And some in dreams assured were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was wither’d at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

Read the whole poem here.

 

1 COMMENT

A Letter from Gary Shteyngart’s Dog

November 9, 2012 | by

The following letter was sent by Gary Shteyngart’s dog to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Dear BAM,

Last night, while my favorite human Gary Shteyngart was dripping gherkin juice and pickled cod balls onto his green polyester shirt, I noticed a tear trickling down his face. I peered over his slumped shoulder and saw on the interwebs that in a couple weeks, some famous people are gathering at BAM to make fun of him. Not only that, you monsters are actually selling tickets to the public for this public humiliation of my friend. BAM staffers, I say to you: this small, furry excuse of a human being already suffers terrible asthma, an overabundance of gnarled body hair, and bouts of midnight gas. He has trouble buttoning his own shirts, doesn’t own a comb, and bribes his own MFA students to write his books. His hardship started years ago, first as a young Russian émigré tortured at Hebrew School, when he arrived in America speaking no English with a mere two shirts and a bear coat, and then again at New York City’s Stuyvesant High School, when his fellow immigrant teens would sabotage his Bunsen burner to get ahead. He struggled to make money in his 20s by writing grants for programs like “Torah Tots,” attempting to secure foundation money for the important purpose of introducing 3-year-olds to the murders and rapes of the Old Testament. In short I say to you, hasn’t Gary suffered enough? Why must you persecute him more? And also will this be live streamed on the web, so I can watch from the comforts of my luxury dog crate?

Sincerely,

Felix the Dachshund

4 COMMENTS

Tonight: “Get in the back of the van!”

September 20, 2012 | by

When BAM asked The Paris Review to choose a film for screening in concert with the Brooklyn Book Festival, the choice was obvious. So, tonight, please join Leanne Shapton, Lorin Stein, and yours truly for a special screening of the cult classic Withnail and I. To the uninitiated: the film, directed by Bruce Robinson, stars Paul McGann and Richard E. Grant as two wastrels in 1969 London who decide to take a restorative holiday in the countryside; obsessively quotable mayhem obviously ensues. Some find it baffling; some find it disturbing; for the rest of us, it is a magnificent obsession. All three camps are invited!

Starts at 7 P.M. Discussion to follow. Click here for tickets.

2 COMMENTS

A Week in Culture: Sadie Stein, Editor

November 14, 2011 | by

DAY ONE

4:00 A.M. I can’t sleep. Because I just moved from Brooklyn into Manhattan, my books aren’t unpacked, and so my reading options are limited. The only books I have handy are on decorating—although it’s usually a pretty theoretical study in my case. The pattern of the boards on the floor of this new apartment reminds me of floors I saw in Kraków when I visited there with my father, and I’ve decided rather grandly to do a sort of prewar Eastern European motif. (Again, this is probably theoretical. ) Wonder vaguely where one would find a tiled stove in New York.

I read a few chapters of the inimitable Dorothy Draper’s Decorating Is Fun!, which is filled with gems like “It is just as disastrous to have the wrong accessories in your room as it is to wear sport shoes with an evening dress,” as well as the somewhat less helpful “I don’t believe anything can do as much for a room as a glowing fire in an attractive fireplace. Men and dogs love an open fire—they show good sense. It is the heart of any room and should be kindled on the slightest provocation.” (That said, I’m guessing Alexa Chung or someone is wearing sports shoes with an evening dress as we speak, and probably causing a sensation. Imagine a world with rules and dicta. The mind boggles.)

5:30 A.M. Finally manage to drift off for a few hours, until a handyman unexpectedly knocks at the door at 7:45 to wash the windows. It occurs to me that this is just the sort of dubious ruse a murderer or thief might use to gain entrance to someone’s apartment; let him in anyway.

9:00 A.M. I pass an angry-looking gentleman on the way to the subway.
“Hello,” I say.
“Bloomingdales, Bloomingdales!” he shouts.

3:53 P.M. I get some sad family news. Internet is in and out here, but in a good moment, I find my favorite Barbara Pym quote: “The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things ... the trivial pleasure like cooking, one’s home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.”

4:45 P.M. My old boyfriend e-mails me about a recent fight he got into at a dinner party, over collective nouns. “I was quite put out, let me tell you,” he says. Read More »

33 COMMENTS