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  Matthew Barney - The Cremaster Cycle

1 2 3 4

CREMASTER 4 (1994) adheres most closely to the project's biological model. This penultimate episode describes the system's onward rush toward descension despite its resistance to division. The logo for this chapter is the Manx triskelion—three identical armored legs revolving around a central axis. Set on the Isle of Man, the film absorbs the island's folklore as well as its more recent incarnation as host to the Tourist Trophy motorcycle race. Myth and machine combine to narrate a story of candidacy, which involves a trial of the will. The film comprises three main character zones. The Loughton Candidate (played by Barney) is a satyr with two sets of impacted sockets in his head that will eventually grow into the horns of the mature Loughton Ram. Its horns—two arcing upward, two down—form a diagram that proposes a condition of undifferentiation, with ascension and descension coexisting in equilibrium. The second and third character zones comprise a pair of motorcycle sidecar teams: the Ascending and Descending Hacks. A trio of attendant fairies mirrors the three narrative fields occupied by the Candidate and the two racing teams.

Cremaster 4 begins and ends in a building on the end of Queen's Pier. The Candidate is being prepared by the fairies for a journey. The motorcycle race starts, and each team of Hacks speeds off in opposite directions. The camera cuts back and forth between the race and the Candidate, who is tap-dancing his way through a slowly eroding floor. As the bikes vie for the title, gelatinous gonadal forms—undifferentiated internal sex organs—emerge from slots in the riders' uniforms in a migratory quest for directionality; the organs of the Ascending Hack move upward, while those of the Descending Hack ooze downward.

Back at the pier, the Candidate plunges through the floor into the sea and heads toward the island. At the moment of his fall—a transition from the utopian realm of pregenital oneness to that of bifurcation—the Ascending Hack collides with a stone embankment and the Descending Hack pulls off the course for a pit stop, where the fairies service its motorcycle. The Candidate reaches land and begins to burrow his way through a curving underground channel to reach the finish line, where the two Hacks will converge. This conduit leads him to a bluff, where the fairies are frolicking in a game that mirrors the conflict enacted by the principal characters, but with none of the tension. Still in his underground tunnel, the Candidate finally reaches his destination. The Loughton Ram stands at this junction—a symbol for the integration of opposites, the urge for unity that fuels this triple race. But before the Candidate and Hacks meet, the screen goes white. The Candidate's dream of transcending his biology to dwell in the space of pure symmetry is shattered.

In the final sequence at the pier the Hacks are parked on discrete ramps sloping down from the building's exterior. In the closing image the camera peers through an open, male crotch at the top of the frame toward the end of the pier. A tightly retracted scrotum is pierced with clasps connected to vinyl cords, which trail off to the awaiting Ascending and Descending Hacks, who will drive toward the island to pick up the slack. Full descension is guaranteed.
—Nancy Spector

C-print in self-lubricating plastic frame (shown unframed)
25 x 21 x 1 1/2 inches
Edition of 6, 1 A.P.
Photo by Michael James O'Brien
© Matthew Barney, courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery

CREMASTER 4: The Isle of Man, 1994
2 of 3 C-prints in self-lubricating plastic frames (shown unframed)
27 1/2 x 33 1/4 x 1 1/2 inches each
Edition of 3, 1 A.P.
Photo by Michael James O'Brien
© Matthew Barney, courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery

Cremaster Suite, 1994–2002
1 of 5 C-prints in self-lubricating plastic frames (shown unframed)
45 1/4 x 35 1/4 x 1 1/4 inches each
Edition of 10, 2 A.P.
Photo by Michael James O'Brien
© Matthew Barney, courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery

The Isle of Man, 1994–95
2 600 cc sidehacks, wrestling mat, vinyl, silicone, tapioca, polyester, petroleum jelly, internally lubricated plastic, prosthetic plastic, fluorescent light, mirror, satin ribbon, and Manx tartan
14 x 18 1/2 x 26 feet
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Photo by Marc Domage, courtesy Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris