A response to the CREMASTER Cycle

The CREMASTER Cycle (1994–2002) is an art project by Matthew Barney, currently being shown at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art as part of the “From Death to Death” exhibition.

It consists of 5 films and related sculptures, drawings and other artefacts. Since its initial display at the Guggenheim, it has been shown around the world either in its complete form, as currently on show here in Edinburgh, or as individual videos, as recently shown at the Tate.

The work is a mixture of surreal visuals and sounds that I think are meant to relate to the potential of creation. I think it is a more striking work when seen as a whole, with all 5 videos playing at the same time. I doubt you’d get anywhere near the same from only seeing only one video in isolation.

Before reading about the work, the overall effect for me was that it was describing the continual activity and variety of human life, with no one element significantly overriding the others. Individually, there is activity, some bizarre, some mundane, but it all gets swallowed up with all the other activity going on. Each part looks like it might have some significance, but in the end no trace is left, and has no impact on the rest. The impression I had was that the activities were undirected and meaningless, but had beauty in the richness of their variety and the unconcious cohesiveness.

If you’d like to learn more about the CREMASTER Cycle, here is a wikipedia entry, the official site with images and explanations, and the videos are on youtube: here is the first half of CREMASTER 3, the longest of the videos.

And until 8th September 2013, you can see it in room 5 of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art as part of the free From Death to Death and Other Small Tales exhibition.

Now, why am I writing about the CREMASTER Cycle? If you follow my blog you might recall that the excellent Drawing Room sessions take place in the modern art gallery. For this month’s session we took our inspiration from the cycle, with most of us doing our drawings immersed in the cacophony of sound from the videos.

Katharine Aarrestad was the artist who led this session. She introduced us to the technique she uses of reverse painting on glass. Examples of her work can be found on her site, and 18 more on the Bourne Fine Art gallery site.

She got us to write down a list of words of our first impressions of the CREMASTER Cycle, and then to swap it with someone else. We used this list to draw a response to the cycle. This was the list I was given:

  • sounds interesting
  • funereal
  • nightmare
  • bizarre

Our pieces were created by drawing an outline on the front of a slide transparency, and then filling the back with coloured marker pens. The idea was to then experiment with placing another image or layer behind the transparency, to emulate the sort of work that Katharine was doing, but I never got around to that. What I’ve done for this blog though is accentuate the nature of the transparency by “illuminating” it below using a bit of digital processing.


I don’t particularly like my drawing. It is strong on clichés – a floating eye, a row of gravestones – but it does capture the CREMASTER Cycle to some extent. The repetition of stripes and gravestones was inspired by the repetition I perceived in the cycle. The strong colours reflect the strength of imagery in the videos. It was nice to hear Katharine comment that a visitor to the exhibition would have no problem identifying which room inspired my drawing.

I may have a go at creating another response to the CREMASTER Cycle in the future, using my own impression of the work instead of via a 3rd party, interesting though that was. If I had more time, I might also consider investing in some transparencies and colourful marker pens, and seeing what more I could do with them.

Overall, another very interesting Drawing Room session.



  1. Pingback: Who is Boksy? | art fn
  2. Pingback: Bones & brushes | art fn

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s