Since 2007, artist Matthew Barney has been developing “River of Fundament” in collaboration with the composer Jonathan Bepler. The Gesamtkunstwerk is inspired by American author Norman Mailer and his sprawling, controversial novel “Ancient Evenings”, published in 1983. The project comprises the epic-length symphonic film “River of Fundament”, three performances, 14 large-scale sculptures weighing up to 25 tons, drawings, photographs, storyboards, and vitrines. In its entirety, the project is one of the artist’s most complex and ambitious works to date.
“River of Fundament” represents the culmination of seven years of intense meditation on death, rebirth, transformation and transcendence. Mailer’s novel depicts the spiritual path of the Egyptian Menenhetet I through three deaths and rebirths. Barney replaces the man’s soul with the automobile and reincarnation with recycling: “Ren,” the project’s first act, documents a live performance in a car dealership in Los Angeles in 2008, where the car – the 1967 Chrysler Crown Imperial from “Cremaster 3” – undergoes its first death. The second act, “Khu”, which is also the second part of the film opera, is set in Detroit and brings the Chrysler back to its birthplace, reincarnated as a 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. In “Ba”, the automobile’s soul travels to New York, where the myth materializes as a sculpture.
With this project’s sculptures, Barney has moved away from his signature materials: Instead of thermal plastic and petroleum jelly, iron, bronze, sulfur and salt refer to Egyptian mythology. The central question is if there is a coherent identity, a spiritual property retaining a person’s particular characteristics not just throughout life, but surviving physical death. The sculpture “Djed” at the center of the exhibition was cast during a live performance “Khu”. For this work – witnessed by a live audience – 25 tons of molten iron were poured over the chassis of the Chrysler. The work shares a formal similarity with the Djed pillar, the Egyptian hieroglyph representing eternity and stability and that was later absorbed into the cult of Osiris, the god of death and fertility. Other sculptures and their complex production process were part of the live performances and thus are part of the film “River of Fundament.” The new drawings, photographs, storyboards, and vitrines intricately map the character and thematic development of the project.
On March, 16, Haus der Kunst and Bayerische Staatsoper present the European premiere of “Matthew Barney: River of Fundament”.
Trailer River of Fundament, 2014
Haus der Kunst, Munich, March 16 – August 17