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Anxious Bodies: Matthew Barney's Cremaster V

  • Journal of History of Modern Art
  • 2003, (15), pp.57-82
  • Publisher : 현대미술사학회
  • Research Area : Arts and Kinesiology > Art > Arts in general > Art History
  • Received : November 30, 2003
  • Accepted : December 31, 2003
  • Published : December 31, 2003

Rhee Jieun 1

1명지대학교

ABSTRACT

With an upsurge of criticism on Cartesian subjectivity and its foundation on logos, the discourse of body has emerged as an alternative focus in postmodern concerns. Although the mind has been previously privileged over, more recently body has become increasingly important as a locus of redefined subjectivity as well as a site of intersubjectivity. The notion of intersubjectivity is well traced from the phenomenological discourses of Merleau-Ponty. In his vigorous attack on the Cartesian subject, Merleau-Ponty criticizes vision-oriented theories that legitimate the rigid dichotomy of subject and object, which eventually engenders the binary opposition of mind and body. By using the term coexistence, Merleau-Ponty emphasizes the reciprocity of the subject/object relationship in which subject is contingent on 區 or her others. The discourse of body necessarily involves issues such as gender and race, but above all, it concerns 'others' and (re) defines the subject "always in relationship to others." This radical departure from the Cartesian transcendental (indeed, solipsistic) subject and the emergence of body have been witnessed in phenomenology and the artistic movements of the 1960s such as Minimalism and performance art. Especially in recent artistic practice and criticism, the discourse of body prevails as the focus of the strategies, which use psychoanalysis, queer theory, or the technological effects of new media (such as three-dimensional video) as their bases. Body, both as a subject of inquiry and an interpretative strategy, is also a crux in postmodern critique of ocularcentrism and logocentrism, which have been considered as the parallel terms of modernism. In this paper, I will delve into Matthew Barney's Cremaster V (1997), an approximately forty-five-minute film, which I believe, touches the recently-focused bodily issues including sexuality, and subject-object relationship. Matthew Barney entered the art scene in the early 1990s with series of physically challenging performances, which demand strength and endurance. Barney pursues discipline and self-absorption through trained bodily movements. His strictly choreographed actions are replete with sexual symbols and connotations. The rich iconography of sexuality most evidently appears in the Cremaster series. The cremaster is the suspensory muscle of the testes. Male reproductive organs located in the scrotum need a system for temperature control. The cremaster is a sort of thermostat in this system. When the outside temperature is cold or too hot for the testicles the cremaster pulls the testicles up into the body. Barney sees this inside-body state as a "pre-genital... possibly regressive state and a downright possibly more developmental state." The cremaster is the suspensory muscle of the testes. Male reproductive organs located in the scrotum need a system for temperature control. The cremaster is a sort of thermostat in this system. When the outside temperature is cold or too hot for the testicles the cremaster pulls the testicles up into the body. Barney sees this inside-body state as a "pre-genital... possibly regressive state and a downright possibly more developmental state." Even though he implies hierarchical binary opposition of the upright and downright movements that the cremaster generates, I argue that there is a yearning for the pre-genital state (which is supposedly considered as the primordial con ­ glomeration of male and female sex) in the Cremaster series. The series of films feature intricate symbolism and dense iconography drawn from psychology, mythology, and Christianity. Despite its primary theme of transgression of normative definitions of male and female sexuality (with its seemingly balanced gesture), the Cremaster series reveal the limitation of the male artist in his at­ tempts to achieve the pre-genital wholeness by subsuming the other (female) sexuality.

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