ANGELAKI

journal of the theoretical humanities
volume 20 number 1 march 2015

introduction: aesthetic labour
towards post-human becomings of
man

A man in a hot pink tartan kilt and elaborate
feathered headgear with a bloodied hand-
kerchief shoved down the hole that was once
his mouth enters into an embrace with a
woman with glass prosthetic legs who promptly
transforms into a wild animal as she attacks
him. The man-creature, seemingly in compe- hélène frichot
tition with himself, climbs the interior walls of
an illuminated atrium as though it were a rock
face. Meanwhile, on another level of the
atrium, which could also be apprehended as an
MATTHEW BARNEY’S
architectural orifice, a rock concert takes CREMASTER CYCLE
place. There are two competing bands perform-
ing a play off, each attempting to overcome the REVISITED
noise produced by the other. All the partici-
pants – the musicians, bouncers, concert atten-
towards post-human
dees – are wearing the white cloth gloves of becomings of man
archival researchers. And to the side, some-
where on yet another level of this strangely fam-
iliar interior, a workman equipped with safety things, prepared for the competitive striving
gear flings large scoops of what appears to be of man amidst his environment-worlds.
heated wax into a corner. By slow increments The “cremaster” is the muscle that controls
the viscous heated material dribbles down a the ascent and descent of the testes in relation
slowly spiralling gutter. Way down below, five to external, environmental stimuli. The “cycle”
lovely ladies in bathing caps enjoy a bubble of Barney’s title draws attention to questions con-
bath while a long choreographed line of Busby cerning a life, both of the individual, and of the
Berkeley showgirls wearing bunny-ears tap species. Barney’s pluriverse presents multiple
their collective heels and toes. In brief, these scenes of agonistic striving associated with this
filmic visions offer a glimpse into the biotechno- muscular contraction and relaxation, commen-
logical pluriverse that is created within artist cing from the moment of pure potentiality
Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, a magnum wherein the chromosomes of the embryo are yet
opus that combines film, drawings, photogra- to arrange themselves into a determination of
phy, and the mixed media of sculptural props. sex. The setting of the filmic vignette described
Together these settings and props compose a above is organised around the ramps of the
mise en abyme of post-human landscapes and interior atrium of an iconic modernist

ISSN 0969-725X print/ISSN 1469-2899 online/15/010055-13 © 2015 Taylor & Francis
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0969725X.2015.1017376

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barney’s cremaster cycle

monument, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim exhaustive world-making performances of the
Museum in New York. Between spiralling ramp Anthrop once he has placed such extreme
and aesthetic performance, what appears to be stress on himself and his mental, social and
produced is a superimposition of one aesthetic environmental ecologies, so that any mutual
expression of heroic masculinity upon another, support system is rendered close to exhaustion.
drawing the tropes of modernist architectural
expression together with turn-of-the-millennium
performance and installation art. In what
the five-tiered cremaster cycle
follows I will argue instead that masculinity The Cremaster Cycle is the culmination of over
comes to be provocatively reformulated through eight years’ worth of work (1994–2002) and is
Barney’s feats of aesthetic labour, which transver- composed of five cycles, with settings that
sally transgress otherwise incompossible worlds. cover regions that span from the Giant’s Cause-
Looking back at the Cremaster Series from a ret- way in Northern Ireland, to the Isle of Man, to
rospective point of view that now identifies the New York, to Budapest.2 Barney explains that
geological impact of human toil on the earth as the work commenced from a site-based fascina-
the Anthropocene, what can be seen to be at tion.3 Like the geologic and atmospheric
work is a mortal struggle for the very viability phenomena of the Anthropocene, the settings
of a man-form amidst global ecologies in crisis, depicted are global in scope and demand the
as well as a presentiment of post-human land- consideration of a geophilosophical diagnosis.
scapes witness to the redundancy of this form. The object of fascination of the Cremaster
What this essay proposes to explore is how a Cycle centres around the sexual differentiation
logic of sensation – the assemblage of aesthetic of the gonads of the embryo, and the subsequent
persona, effects (and affects) and materials, relaxation and contraction, suspension and
including the crucial role that architecture as retraction, of the testicles in response to their
an aesthetic figure plays – dynamically com- immediate environment, specifically to temp-
poses Barney’s incompossible series of worlds erature and affects that produce the emotion
to produce masculine becomings that venture of fear. The “cremaster” is the muscle that con-
novel, biotechnological reformulations of a trols this movement, and the logic of sense and
post-human “man-form” otherwise threatened sensation that unfurls across Barney’s con-
with exhaustion, even extinction.1 A series of structed pluriverse is one of contraction and
concept-tools derived from the work of Gilles dilation, together with the extreme exercise of
Deleuze and Félix Guattari, including those of the muscles in contact with a series of environ-
the ideal game and the bachelor machine, will mental milieux. In short, the central theme of
be deployed to examine the battles of sense Barney’s work is manhood, the struggles man
and sensation that animate Barney’s work. The must undertake to create his niche amidst his
story of the Cremaster is now twenty years old environmental surrounds, and the risks he
and has well and truly reached its maturity faces as he adapts his environment and, in
against the backdrop of a world-historical turn, adapts himself. Architecture plays a
scene that has meanwhile plunged further into central role here because of its capacity to bio-
both political and ecological distress. What technologically alter and augment environ-
Barney pre-emptively explores is the accelera- ments, and create compositions across what
tion of the performance of a man-form as can be called the immanent plane of Nature-
though to test the limits of our geologic age, thought.
the Anthropocene, so named to acknowledge Barney himself plays characters in all but the
the massive impact that man-made and globally first cycle, which is peopled entirely by women.
distributed processes of industrialisation have Slender threads tie the motifs of one cycle to
irreversibly wrought. Revisiting Barney’s Cre- the next, often through the figural ciphers of gro-
master Cycle now offers the opportunity to tesque and fascinating corporeal transform-
ask what becomes of the exclusionary and ations or through Barney’s fixation on such

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viscous materials as petroleum jelly. It is across detailed geological-biological hybrid series of
the perpetually reinvented body of the artist and worlds that are operationally rhizomatic.5 The
in the specific region of the genitalia, often ren- rhizome, which to some might be apprehended
dered unrecognisable, that much of the action as a near exhausted concept in its own right,
pertaining to the struggles of manhood can be describes an open system, a horizontally orien-
witnessed. Beyond this fascination in the geni- tated and immanent network of relations that
tals and the work, or else the thwarted, even draws on an analogy with botanical life. Perplex-
failed workings of sexual reproduction, and ingly, “any point of a rhizome can be connected
amidst the innumerable themes and influences to any other”6 and its organisation is structured
that this work explores, there persists the recur- with an emphasis on the exteriority of relations
rent motif of competition. The competition of and their “flourishing development,” so that
the fittest, perpetually threatened with failure.4 subjects and objects emerge and dissipate
Fitness articulated through the double sense of again as temporary moments of transcendent
demonstrations of fitness, such as rock climbing, subjective or objective capture amidst vibrant
car racing, marathon tap dancing, and other networks of immanent relationality. Impor-
physical displays of prowess, and fitness in tantly, the rhizome as organisational complex
terms of how well the organism fits its environ- is not merely life-like but hooked up with tech-
mental niche. Barney presents the agonism of nologies, it is a biotechnological assemblage,
competition by stipulating Sisyphean tasks, and any assumed “natural” expression of life
and elaborate, often fruitless games. These tends to be entangled with cultural technologies.
games can be compared to the creative yet If the Cremaster Cycle operates like a rhizome it
anti-productive (un)workings of a bachelor must be apprehended as an assemblage under
machine, which operates according to the logic extreme, meta-stable stress. Rather than a uni-
of sense of an ideal game, which in turn produces verse, Barney’s set of incompossible worlds pre-
a circulation of affects towards the construction sents a conflictual pluriverse, a rhizome
of a sensory, masculine becoming in contact with threatening to alter its connections, passages
its architectural-environmental milieu. and thresholds beyond recognition.
Barney’s Cremaster Cycle presents an elabo- Mere description will not suffice to retell the
rately cross-referenced pluriverse that unfolds, story of the Cremaster Cycle, and on account of
or rather contracts and relaxes like the muscular its immense scope, and due to an interest in dis-
rhythm of a bodily organ. Barney’s body of cussing just one architecturally relevant
work, and it is certainly the body that sequence, I will commence with the third of
demands to be addressed here through various the five Cremaster Cycles called The Order,
stages of formation and deformation, follows a where the interior atrium of Frank Lloyd
perverse logic of sense and sensation character- Wright’s Guggenheim Museum is used as a
ised by a mythology that draws on invented gen- setting for feats of endurance and struggles for
ealogies creating improbable relations between the securing of existential territories. Cremaster
quasi-historical figures, as well as between reim- 3 features two architectural icons as aesthetic
agined geographical locations and architectural persona: the Chrysler Building, New York and
settings. It is a filmic epic of overwhelming pro- the Guggenheim Museum, also in New York.
portions supported by an archive of sculptural The sculptor Richard Serra plays the part of
artefacts, which might also be read as a series the mythological architect of King Solomon’s
of relics of a past age or perhaps the improbable, temple, Hiram Abiff, to Barney’s struggling
speculative or ulterior relics of a post-human apprentice. The story of Abiff the architect
future yet to come. There are also instructional tells how he was murdered in an unsuccessful
diagrammatic sketches and photographic por- attempt to force him to reveal the Master
traits that portray some of the main characters Mason’s secrets, and it follows that iconography
and scenes. Barney creates a carefully cross- borrowed from Free Masonry plays a large role
referenced aesthetic system, an exhaustively in the third Cremaster Cycle, as well as

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barney’s cremaster cycle

initiatory acts, and violent rituals that emulate underground, as though navigating the living
the sacrificial rites of secret societies.7 It is not entrails of the island. He seeks a passage
incidental that the setting of The Order, within through the earth that presents the greatest chal-
the third Cremaster Cycle, is located within an lenges, so disrupting the common-sense logic of
iconic modernist interior. As I will argue following a ready-made path overground.
below, the struggles undertaken here, per- The apprentice, also played by Barney, who
formed as the travails of an apprenticeship, features as a central protagonist in The Order
seek to establish new rules for a post-human must succeed through five worlds out of a poten-
becoming of man in contact with his architectu- tially unlimited set, each determined by another
rally augmented environments. segment of the ramp of the Guggenheim
Museum. He must confront a series of phys-
ically arduous initiation tests, and through his
the order: ideal game and labour he challenges the notion that there is
one world that can be selected as best.9 One
apprenticeship
crucial test depicted not in the specific sequence
The filmic sequence that belongs to The Order of The Order, but elsewhere in Cremaster 3,
more or less occupies the central vortex of the involves a partial disembowelment administered
Cremaster Series, and to complement this in a dentist’s chair, and also the widening of the
location its action takes place in the interior con- oral orifice so that a large serviette now aug-
tainment of an atrium organised around a des- ments the hole that was once the apprentice’s
cending ramp, a circulatory passage around the mouth. The entire alimentary canal undertakes
deepest, most sheltered interior where life a relative deterritorialisation, as an exterior
battles to secure its longevity. It is crucial to relation is constructed between the mouth and
note that Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim the anus, producing a passage that passes
Museum is never viewed from its exterior, so through the earth and its territories. A biologi-
enforcing an inversion of its iconic and civic cal, erstwhile “natural” passage is denaturalised
gesture. Instead, the spiral ramp of the interior and technically augmented, though according to
of the Guggenheim Museum is imagined by functions that remain undetermined.
Barney to produce a five-tiered pluriverse, a At play in the vortex of the Guggenheim
series of worlds operating at the threshold of Museum is the logic of an ideal game of life,
incompossibility and teetering on the brink of where rules are invented as one proceeds and
contradiction.8 An instructive diagram drawn nothing is finally achieved. In his attempt to
by Barney describes this five-tier organisation climb the atrium, Barney’s apprentice necess-
and depicts the descent of a viscous material arily suffers setbacks, falling back through the
over a series of balustrades into the atrium- levels only to have to commence over again.
orifice, so transversally reorganising the logic The ideal game, Deleuze explains, has a great
of the slow downward spiral of the ramp. This deal of movement, appears to have no precise
means of contravening a given spatial logic is rules, and allows for neither winners nor losers,
also at work in the fourth cycle of the Cremaster, somewhat like the caucus race in Lewis Carroll’s
and the first that Barney completed, which fea- Alice in Wonderland.10 The caucus race is con-
tures a racing car event set on the Isle of Man. vened in order that Alice and a cluster of small
Here the rules demand that the two so-called animals, having fallen into a pool of Alice’s
competitors set off from the starting line in tears, can subsequently dry off. They have two
opposing directions, and proceed at breakneck choices, either they can listen, immobilised, to
speed towards a head-on collision. Meanwhile, the Mouse’s dry tale, which isolates sense in a see-
Barney, now a smartly dressed hybrid creature mingly empty “it,” or else they can run around in
with floppy, goat-like ears, and two extra a circuit of indefinite proliferation from one
orifices hidden away beneath his thin orange proposition to the next.11 Deleuze dramatises
hair, squirms along a lubricated passage the paradoxical threshold between sense and

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sensation by explaining that what is represented denotation. It’s not a question of meaning but
in this choice is two forms of stuttering, demon- a matter of use, and the questions that need
strating how effects of sense-making also to be asked are does it work and, if so, how
produce spasms in the embodied subject who does it work? Given the conjunction of mor-
struggles to produce sense. The ideal game oper- phologically perturbed genitalia and the
ates in contrast to conventional games, which agonism of competition, the logic of sense
commence with pre-determined rules, and only and sensation at work here can be compared
retain chance at certain points. The ideal or to the conceptual diagram of a bachelor
pure game is a game “reserved for thought and machine. With respect to the formulation of
art.”12 It operates at the cutting edge of sense, the bachelor machine, Deleuze and Guattari
between things and propositions, at the assert “The question becomes: what does the
threshold between the logics of sense and sen- celibate machine produce? What is produced
sation, both of which are co-constituted in by means of it? The answer would seem to
necessary contact with nonsense. While the be: intensive qualities.”17 Alice Jardine
game may only exist in thought, and become explains the history of the bachelor machine
manifest in art, Deleuze asserts that it also as a set of literary and artistic practices begin-
holds the capacity to disturb “reality, morality ning at the end of the nineteenth century,
and the economy of the world.”13 extending through Dada and Surrealism to
In relation to Barney’s early work in the the present time (being the late 1980s at her
Drawing Restraint series, the curator Nancy time of writing).18 She stresses the masculinist
Spector explains that “the game itself is of basis for a related strand of fiction employing
lesser interest than the accumulation, storage, bachelor machine logic, which includes the
and release of energy in this controlled corporeal writings of Thomas Pynchon, Samuel
environment.”14 In this early work Barney also Beckett, and William Burroughs. Marcel Duch-
incorporated his body into the production of amp’s artistic production is also famously
his performative pieces, which, somewhat like associated with this conceptual machine,
the machine in Franz Kafka’s short story In the specifically his work The Bride Stripped Bare
Penal Colony, created athletic obstacle courses by her Bachelors, Even, also known as the
articulated through an implicit instructional Large Glass. The bachelor machine has been
matrix whose outcome was less the drawing pro- employed by the architect Rem Koolhaas in
duced than the pure expenditure of energy.15 his reinvention of the theme park history of
The third Cremaster Cycle extends this relation New York in Delirious New York.19 Michel
of the body to itself into its architectural-environ- Carrougues has a definition of a bachelor
mental surrounds, as well as exploring the inti- machine which includes a taxonomy of
mate relation between mixtures of bodies and examples, all of which are caught up in their
the sense they express. Sense is “the thin film peculiar short-circuits of sense. And the bache-
at the limit of things and words”;16 it owns an lor machine has also been discussed at length
unstable, volatile, and atmospheric quality. by Michel de Certeau.20 The bachelor
Sense is an event that is produced less as the machine (machine célibataire), for Deleuze
result of the habitual and often retrospective and Guattari, shares many qualities with all
relationship assumed between cause and effect, of these machines in being anti-conjugal, and
than as an effect of light. anti-familial, but their machine works specifi-
cally to produce desire.21 It produces an assem-
blage of desiring production that promises to
matthew barney’s bachelor make a contribution to a newly imagined
world of human, non-human and post-human
machine
actors. At the same time, there persists the
Sense, importantly, cannot be reduced to risk that the nonsensical process of the bache-
meaning, or to signification, connotation, and lor machine may also release violent forces.

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barney’s cremaster cycle

Spector suggests that a “trajectory of shared Barney wilfully recomposes the genealogical
sensibilities,” or what I would prefer to call a line of his precursors, and incorporates
genealogy of infectious influence, proceeds Richard Serra into his own work as the figure
from Duchamp’s Bride Stripped Bare by her of the architect, Hiram Abiff, in relation to his
Bachelors, Even (1915–23) to Barney’s work role as an apprentice. While this might seem
via a community of creative practitioners such to respect the micro-relations of power
as Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, and Richard between Barney the artist and his creative pre-
Serra, all of whom share an “onanistic decessor, Serra the sculptor, Barney’s perform-
impulse” that short-circuits the productive ance demands that the relation is opened up and
stage of desire, plugging it instead into an not over-determined by its terms. He reinvents
auto-affective universe. Spector’s specific argu- the role of the master, and reverses the relations
ment is that Barney has arranged his work of influence by capturing Serra in his pluriverse.
according to three stages that reflect the devel- The apprentice Barney suffers the violent sever-
opment of the gonads from a moment of pure ing of the inferred circuit that would conjoin his
potentiality before the sex of an embryo is deter- mouth with his anus, and this alimentary canal
mined, what Barney calls the “situation”; to a is exteriorised, creating, quite literally, a kind
second stage, which is denominated “condition” of Body without Organs. The role of anti-pro-
and conceived as a “disciplinary funnel” based duction does not have to mean that nothing is
on the alimentary canal; and then a third produced, for Barney’s bachelor machine
stage, “production,” which makes the force of creates new relations that are external to their
desire manifest in a world. According to terms, and that manifest as previously unima-
Spector, Barney specifically skips the third gined atmospheres of affect. He follows the
stage, that is, “production,” in order to create materials of a beleaguered world, and it is no
his own bachelor machine, or a “self referential, coincidence that his hybrid man-forms and
autoerotic cycle.”22 In Barney’s own words “If their monstrous alterations interact with
Production is bypassed […] the head goes into viscous materials derived from the non-renew-
the arse.”23 Following Spector’s account, a able resource that is petroleum, including the
self-enclosed organism is composed as a petroleum jelly and moulded plastics that
system of narcissistic gratification that empha- compose his many props and prostheses. The
sises a cyclic connection between the mouth striving or conatus, to borrow a term from
and the anus, as seemingly demonstrated in Baruch Spinoza, that animates the five cycles
the augmentations to the apprentice in the of the Cremaster Cycle depicts the struggles
third Cremaster whereby his mouth and anus that unite the man-form with his diverse
are violently altered.24 I argue instead that this worlds, and demonstrate how the man-form
self-enclosure does not produce an entirely her- comes to be deformed at the same time that he
meneutically sealed infrastructure, but one that deforms and ravages his own world.
is leaky, apt to affect, and to be affected in turn. In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guat-
That is to say, the bachelor machine can be tari describe such transformations in terms of
cracked open into an ecological system, and, as a new earth and a new people, thus emphasising
Deleuze and Guattari stress when they discuss the crucial relationship between an organism
their geophilosophical approach, becoming has (peoples) and its environment (the earth which
less to do with history than with geography comes to be formalised or territorialised as so
and milieu.25 As such, the bachelor machine, many worlds). Organism plus environment is
when placed in immanent contact with a what Gregory Bateson has identified as the
milieu, promises to give birth to a new humanity basic unit of survival.27 The geophilosophy at
and a new earth: “The bachelor machine forms a work here imagines new formations of peoples,
new alliance between desiring machines and the a new earth, and new productive relations
body without organs to give birth to a new between these terms, even though “the artist
humanity or a glorious organism.”26 or the philosopher is quite incapable of creating

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a people, each can only summon it with all his “seriality,” the agonism of encounters between
strength.”28 How much strength will suffice? human and non-human actors, and an incipient
In this context, Barney’s work can be revisited post-humanism. And Deleuze’s logic of sen-
as a striving with all his might towards the possi- sation can be readily applied to Barney’s work.
bility of new configurations of life, which some- The logic of sensation is, as Conley argues, an
times require a detour through what at first “operative concept,” which is to suggest that it
appears to be monstrous, which is simply that can not only be reapplied in other aesthetic con-
which we are unable to recognise, comprehend, texts, but with each application it promises to
and so classify. What happens when you break transform our encounter with the aesthetic uni-
open the Möbius strip of sense, break open the verse, or pluriverse, in question.35
organisation of man in relation to his territories
in order to return these territories to the
earth?29 If we are no longer fit for this world,
becoming-man?
then we urgently need to be able to imagine If we are to strictly follow Deleuze and Guat-
another.30 tari’s general logic it would be a nonsense to
There are two sides or two directions that the talk of becoming-man, because man is the
bachelor machine can follow, one towards the primary, hegemonic, majoritarian and dominant
modulations of societies of control, and one force, and man himself is in need of becoming-
opening towards potential sites of creative other, preferably by first following the passage
resistance. The bachelor machine also produces of becoming-woman. In what situation can a
a relationship between sense and sensation, or scenario be imagined in which man is, after
between material mixtures of sensory bodies, all, the minor voice, the minor force? At the
and incorporeal events of sense, like the dust moment when the death of man has been
that is stirred up over a battlefield, or the mist decided, when the line that represents man has
that rises over the prairie. What the bachelor been drawn in the sand and risks being
machine produces as a desiring assemblage is washed away by the incoming tide.36 We are at
simultaneously a sensory becoming and a con- the exit threshold of the Anthropocene which,
ceptual becoming. Where the sensory becoming as Jill Bennett explains, demarcates a brief geo-
is the ceaseless process by which one becomes logical period wherein human-designed indus-
something other than what one was, while main- trial activity has produced vast changes at a
taining something of what one has once been, planetary scale.37 Not only do we face species
and can be described as “otherness caught in a extinction, ageing populations, global
matter of expression,”31 the conceptual becom- warming, post-peak oil, and the wholesale
ing “is the action by which the common event exhaustion of worlds, as a corollary we face the
itself eludes what is.”32 That is to say, sense dramatic realignment of our mental, social and
(the common event) is never identical to the environmental ecologies. Barney’s experiments
state of affairs it is supposed to denote, in becoming-man, despite the seemingly oxy-
connote, or signify (what is), it exists neither moronic formula this suggests, can be seen as
in the mind nor in things, but is a surface a series of extreme experiments that enable an
effect that is produced, and continues being pro- imaginary of these new ecologies to emerge,
duced.33 In relation to Deleuze’s study of but only by placing the man-form under
Francis Bacon’s paintings, Tom Conley explains extreme duress. He depicts scenes of surplus
“the ‘logic’ of ‘sense’ in ‘sensation’ can be taken accumulation, the useless labour of shifting
as an implicit inflection of direction and serial- stockpiles, the movement of matter from one
ity. Different ‘series’ of forces are driven place to the next, the effluent of gloop and
through the oeuvre.”34 Bacon’s and Barney’s gunk travelling its slow way down the spiral.
oeuvres share certain qualities, such as the pro- The prescience of Barney’s exhaustive endur-
cesses of deformation suffered by their subjects, ance test is a struggle for man, not a reified
the circulation of repeated motifs or a kind of image of man as he once was, but instead a

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new kind of man. It is a risky endeavour, and, Modern architectural revolutionary with his
finally, on which side does Barney rest? With a avant-garde technology, out to save the masses
man-form near exhaustion, or with the emer- through mass production, is a macho image if
gence of a new kind of man that includes a ever there was one.”41 Deleuze and Guattari
becoming-woman in its assemblage as well as a identify this expansive and territorial figure of
multiplicity of other little sexes and their “Man par excellence” as European, a figure
expressions? Barney practises an undecidability that Barney as a New World American must
between the sexes, and at the same time invents also struggle to distinguish himself from.42
a mythology for a new series of worlds popu- What has been forgotten in this formulation of
lated by characters that represent the affective modernist Man is the subsistence of more
qualities of man’s capacity for: evil (the serial complex ecological systems, delicate feedback-
killer); creativity (the architect); strength and loops that circulate between “man,” his environ-
endurance (the car racer) – these aesthetic ment, his social relations and his ideas.
figures are all heroic in some way, but all
occupy a perilous threshold at the brink of
exhaustion. lubricated opening–closing and a
The post-Second World War figure of the
“new man” and his universalising world,
future of shit
guided into existence by the heroic figures of What Barney succeeds in doing is disrupting
architects, planners, politicians, and economists this modernist logic by performing an arduous
spruiking a shared social conscience, relies on rite of passage, an apprenticeship that manifests
the assumption that social change can be as man’s precarious and uncertain relationship
achieved when the environment is appropriately with his environment. Barney has inverted the
designed. Spector similarly asserts that the dominant image of the exterior form of the
ritualised realm of organised sports compe- famous modernist icon, the Guggenheim
tition, exhibitionism, and idolisation “is associ- Museum, to work upon its celebrated interior
ated in our collective cultural unconscious through the deployment of liberal smearings
with masculine identity.”38 The purportedly of Vaseline. This may at first seem a standard
failed modernist social project sought to shift from the masculine civic exterior into the
produce new architectural environments mod- feminine domestic interior, a binary well estab-
elled after the man-form, as clearly demon- lished through histories and theories of architec-
strated in Le Corbusier’s over-scaled Modular ture, but it would be misleading to suggest that
Man. In the process of the emergence of moder- the Guggenheim Museum expresses a masculine
nist architecture, Marion von Osten explains, form externally. In fact, it confounds the
“the Modernist architect was thus born; his orthogonal logic of the Manhattan street grid
gender male.” Osten points out that it was and disrupts the organisation of its neighbours
assumed that a brave new world of modernism by presenting a smooth, curved façade to the
would be achieved primarily through the street that is divided by the horizontal dark
proper distribution of light and air, strips of the negative recesses of its windows,
accompanied by a firm belief in a universal bearing more of a relation to Central Park
access to and desire for democracy.39 Osten across the road than to the city grid. Like
draws attention to the movie The Fountainhead Barney’s work, it is a building that begins to
where masculinity and architecture are drawn dream its own autopoietic imaginary series of
into an explicit connective synthesis, and worlds. As one well-known architectural histor-
where building elements are used to present a ian relays, in his notes near the time of his death
form of “manworship.”40 We are strong, we Wright reflects on the vulva-shaped pool in the
are in control, we transform our environment, foyer of the Guggenheim and its relationship
and thereafter it transforms us. As Denise to seeds and other vessels of vital reproduc-
Scott Brown argues, “the heroically original, tion.43 Wittingly or not, Barney has located

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the first level of his pluriverse in an environ- curated fashion, to constitute the natural.
ment of foam and laughter, where bathing Barney’s apprentice breaks the logic of sense
Venuses blow soft bubbles before ceremonially at work by scaling the interior of the Guggen-
opening the competition for the apprentice. heim in a strenuous rock-climbing feat. He
Frank Lloyd Wright is renowned for his specific breaks the gentle downwards trajectory of the
architectural interpretation of organic form as a sloping ramp and imposes onto this interior
logic of form generation. It is not about a five distinct, even incompossible, worlds, each
restricted application of “biomimicry,” which straining at the threshold of exhaustion. Follow-
predominantly operates according to appear- ing a Leibnizian logic, the co-presence of incom-
ances; the Guggenheim does not “look like” a possible worlds leads to a nonsensical universe
natural object. Instead, it is about an investi- that is chaotic and labyrinth-like, where every
gation into natural systems and their endless point of view is equally indeterminate, and any
buddings and unfurlings, “cycles” of growth, direction you choose to take may well lead
decay, growth, and the intricate patterns that nowhere, or else everywhere.45
come to organise this systematicity. The archi- With the event of Barney’s performance in
tecture is not simply about an organicism that The Order, the struggles of deterritorialisation
relies on complex notions of growth, but is taking place in the architectural orifice of the
rather more cybernetic as its design logic is Guggenheim Museum atrium pit two orders
also mixed with the promise of an increasingly against each other, the one transcendent and
technologically advanced age, and a growing fas- the other immanent. These orders are entwined
cination in the biotechnological imbrication of in an embrace that works itself around a spiral.
machines into everyday life. It is worth remem- And yet it is not as simple as suggesting that the
bering that Venus is no product of a “natural modernist architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright
birth.” Her name translates as “foam arisen,” achieves a transcendent order and Matthew
and she is born out of the genital remains of Barney’s performative event an experiment in
Uranus and the foaming waters of the sea off immanence. Both systems work internally
the coast of Cyprus where Cronus, having cut against themselves, torsioned in contrary direc-
off Uranus’ genitals, threw them behind him tions: the Guggenheim leads the visitor swiftly
into those waters.44 upwards according to the transcendent vertical
Wright’s architecture can be seen to align ascension of a lift, only to allow them to
with Barney’s emphasis on the interior of the slowly descend a wide ramp, and Barney
Guggenheim as the germinal space in which struggles upwards from level to level, only to
explorative action can take place, and yet meet his post-human counterpart in the form
Wright maintains far more control than that, of a hybrid woman-beast near the summit,
and the exploration of this interior world at only to topple back down again. A struggle for
the Guggenheim is highly curated. The transcendence leads again to the immanent
planned circulation demands that the visitor occasion, and the vertical is restored to a hori-
enter the foyer atrium and directly ascend to zontal organisation according to the logic of a
the top floor of the museum by way of a lift. spiral. Deleuze and Guattari describe this
From this vantage point, and with comfortable diagram of the counterpoint articulation of
ease, the visitor slowly descends, turning transcendence and immanence in the following
around and around the illuminated atrium by way:
following a slowly descending ramp. On one
side a view is ventured into the void and down
When it is transcendent, vertical, celestial,
towards the vulva-shaped pond, and on the and brought about by the imperial unity,
other a sequential array of aesthetic artefacts is the transcendent element must always give
consumed. Barney violently contravenes this way or submit to a sort of rotation in
logic, and can even be seen to go against order to be inscribed on the always-imma-
nature, or else what is perceived, in a highly nent plan of Nature-thought. The celestial

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barney’s cremaster cycle

vertical settles on the horizontal of the the Cremaster Cycle. Another work of near
plane of thought in accordance with a equal ambition has recently been completed by
spiral.46 Matthew Barney – part opera, part filmic epic
of five hours’ duration – entitled River of Fun-
Between the struggle for transcendence and the dament. It is based on an idiosyncratic reading
restoration of the here and now of immanence, a of a Norman Mailer novel called Ancient Eve-
rhythm of sense and sensation is effectively pro- nings, which was, in turn, much inspired by
duced, a contraction and dilation much like that the Egyptian Book of the Dead.48 Here,
of the cremaster muscle. This is the rhythm of rather than the jizm-like gunk that lubricates
the ideal game played out by the bachelor the openings and closings of Barney’s Cremaster
machine with its seemingly inexhaustible expen- Cycle, there is a river of shit. It is the aftermath
diture of energy. of expenditure, an excess of
The man-form only persists in so far as he is waste, the heavy odour of a
assembled with so many other diverse forms world gone bad. Or else, could
with which he enters into relations that either it be a world reconstituting
diminish his capacity or increase his capacity itself in anticipation of other
to act in a world. Spector explains that the Cre- forms of life?
master operates in such a way that “Characters
transmogrify into multiple versions of them-
selves, cars perform ritual sacrifice, islands notes
have digestive tracts, buildings have dia- 1 On the theme of “extinction” see Claire Coleb-
phragms, bees pollinate people, and playing rook’s double volume entitled Essays on Extinction:
fields have reproductive systems.”47 Another Colebrook, Death of the Posthuman; idem, Sex
way of explaining this strangely animist uni- after Life.
verse is in terms of the immanent horizontal, 2 The Cremaster Cycle was first shown in its
though uneven, relations that persist between entirely at Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 6 June–1
human and non-human actors who all assemble Sept. 2002, and then at Musée d’Art Moderne de
together to form ecologies of varying sorts, all la Ville de Paris, 10 Oct. 2002–5 Jan. 2003, and
intricately interconnected, from the bacterial finally at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,
relations that churn the gut to global flows of New York, 14 Feb.–11 May 2003. See Matthew
information and trash. Barney forwards a geo- Barney: Cremaster Cycle (New York: Guggenheim
philosophical and ecosophical construction of Museum, 2002) opening publication details page
(n. pag.).
concepts and affects around the problem of
the fundamental relationship between organism 3 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJfI1LRK0tc>
and environment, performing the near exhaus- (accessed 6 Jan. 2015).
tion of this relation. It is by placing the man-
4 Spector explains that the five cycles of the Cre-
form under extreme duress, by speeding up
master imagine the possibility of equilibrium and
his circuits of production, consumption, pro- symmetry between differences or opposing
duction, that Barney is able to throw up new parties, only to result in failure: “the underlying
possible visions of precariously secured theme of a system in conflict with itself to remain
relations between our future organisms and undifferentiated, when all determining factors
future environments. He follows the materials point toward differentiation, informs the Cremaster
of a man-form in strife in order to imagine project as a whole” (Spector 18).
other relations and forms of life, other environ-
5 Spector wrote a thorough catalogue essay for
ments and atmospheres of affect. Perhaps his is Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, and explains that it “has
the last cry of the anthrops in anticipation of at least two sets of beginnings, at least two
post-human becomings of man? endings, and many more points of entry. It is a poly-
A final note needs to be made here because of morphous organism of an artwork, continuously
the time that has passed since the completion of shifting guises and following its own eccentric set

64
frichot

of rules.” Reference is made briefly to the work of toward what they wanted to get away from”
Deleuze near the conclusion of her essay, but is not (308). When, after forty long years they finally
explored in any depth (Spector 4). arrive at their desired destination, their swimsuits
in tatters, they find that New York has come to
6 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 3–6.
resemble characteristics of the place they had
7 Caillois 150. See also Verwoert. hoped to escape. Their ficto-critical narrative as
imaginary architectural construction demonstrates
8 See Gilles Deleuze/Leibniz Cours Vincennes, 15 the forestalled consummation and desiring pro-
Apr. 1980, available <http://www.webdeleuze.com/ duction that is characteristic of the bachelor
php/texte.php?cle=50&groupe=Leibniz&langue=2> machine (Koolhaas).
(accessed 4 Sept. 2012).
20 Certeau explains that a celibatory or bachelor
9 See Barney’s diagram in Matthew Barney: Cremas- machine is an apparatus that is built around an
ter Cycle 301. internal difference (for instance, between the
10 Deleuze, Logic of Sense 58. sexes) and is composed of interconnected
systems; it accumulates inscriptions, and circulates
11 Ibid. 32. backwards during the night and forwards during
12 Ibid. 60. the day, and produces energy through this move-
ment (de Certeau 157).
13 Ibid.
21 Le Bot et al. See also Szeemann and Clair 21.
14 Spector 5.
22 Spector 5–6.
15 Carrougues constructs what he calls a “com-
plete series” of bachelor machines, citing examples 23 Barney qtd in Spector 6.
that include Duchamp’s Bride Stripped Bare by her 24 Spector 5–6.
Bachelors, Even, also known as the Large Glass;
Kafka’s In the Penal Colony; Raymond Roussel’s 25 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? 110.
Locus Solus; Lautréamont’s Chants of Maldorer, and 26 Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus 17.
its famous formula “as beautiful as the chance
encounter between a sewing-machine and an 27 Bateson’s expanded definition of ecology is
umbrella on a dissecting table”; and Edgar Allan manifested in his insistence that the basic unit of
Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum. See Carrougues, survival must be considered as a combination of
“Directions for Use” 21–38. See also idem, Les “organism plus environment” (Bateson 459, 460).
Machines célibataire; Szeemann and Clair 21.
28 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? 110.
16 Deleuze, Logic of Sense 31.
29
17 Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus 18.
It is only by breaking open the circle, as in the
18 Jardine 153. case of the Möbius strip, by unfolding and
untwisting it, that the dimension of sense
19 Koolhaas describes a ficto-critical architectural
appears for itself, in its irreducibility, and
construction that is a floating swimming pool, a dis-
also in its genetic power as it animates an a
placed body of water paradoxically supported
priori internal model of the proposition.
amidst a larger, oceanic water body. The pool has
(Deleuze, Logic of Sense 20)
been constructed by Russian constructivists who,
feeling disillusioned with the ossification of the 30 See Hughes.
revolutionary project in Russia, use the floating
swimming pool as a vehicle of escape. They have 31 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? 177.
discovered that if they swim towards the place
32 Ibid.
they hope to escape from, Russia, then the pool
will move inexorably towards their desired desti- 33 Deleuze, Logic of Sense 20.
nation, that is, America, and more specifically,
34 Conley 133.
New York. As Koolhaas explains: “they had to
swim away from where they wanted to go, 35 Ibid. 130.

65
barney’s cremaster cycle

36 Deleuze writes: Colebrook, Claire. Sex after Life: Essays on Extinction
Vol. 2. Ann Arbor, MI: Open UP and U of Michigan
We must take quite literally the idea that man P, 2014. Print.
is a face drawn in the sand between two tides: Conley, Tom. “Afterword: A Politics of Fact and
he is a composition appearing only between Figure.” Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. By
two others, a classical past that never knew Gilles Deleuze. Trans. Daniel W. Smith.
him and a future that will no longer know Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2005. 130–49. Print.
him. (Deleuze, Foucault 89)
De Certeau, Michel. “The Arts of Dying:
37 Bennett 345–47. Celibatory Machines.” Heterologies: Discourse on
the Other. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U
38 Spector 4. of Minnesota P, 1986. 156–70. Print.
39 Von Osten 226–27. Deleuze, Gilles. Foucault. Trans. Séan Hand.
40 Ibid. 227. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1988. Print.

41 Scott Brown 261. Deleuze, Gilles. The Logic of Sense. Trans. Mark
Lester, with Charles Stivale. New York: Columbia
42 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? 97. UP, 1990. Print.
43 Frampton 188. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus.
44 Sloterdijk 63–76. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen
R. Lane. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983. Print.
45 See Lambert 128–52.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand
46 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? 89. Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian
47 Spector 23. Massumi. Minneapolis and London: U of
Minnesota P, 1987. Print.
48 See Searle.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. What is
Philosophy? Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham
Burchell. New York: Columbia UP, 1994. Print.
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Hélène Frichot
Critical Studies in Architecture
School of Architecture
KTH (Royal Institute of Technology)
Stockholm 10044
Sweden
E-mail: helene.frichot@arch.kth.se
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