Hans-Ulrich Obrist: My first question is about the beginning of the beginnings. Your work suddenly became visible in 1991 with two exhibitions, and I wondered if you could tell me about these exhibitions and the beginnings of your work in the '80s?
Matthew Barney: I became interested in stories rather than documenting real actions, so in a certain way that was a real turning point for me rather than the beginning which it may have seemed, since it was the first work that I'd exhibited. So perhaps it was the end of something rather than the beginning of something else.
HUO: So this was the end of this more performative period?
MB: I guess it had to do with an environment that would have imposed some form of resistance to pretty straight forward activities that I would perform, and how that would effect the forms that were created in the environment. There was a series of pieces that did end up being exhibited at some point, called Drawing Restraint environments, and were about imposing resistance on the act of drawing. In a certain way those pieces in the two gallery exhibitions in '91 were related to the Drawing Restraint pieces in the way that they climb above the ceiling, and ended up being a way to make marks on the sheet. Again this was a sort of continuation of something that had started several years before, where training devices used in American football would be used in corridors or on floors with drawing implements to make marks in unpredictable ways in an environment, adding more weight to these devices; there was a walking sled, which ended up being used over and over again, and became a little bit emblematic, a kind of creative tool, although it's built to break down the muscles of the athlete that's using it as a training device. Muscles need to be put under resistance to develop, and a lot of the work of that time was focussed on that as a metaphor – that a form couldn't really grow without resistance. And in that way a lot of athletics systems that I'd grown up with became really useful to look at as tools and as concepts to set up a story.
HUO: And was this while you were at art school?
MB: Yes, that's right.
HUO: So all of a sudden these things which were familiar to you entered the work. There are two issues that crop up very early in your work, which have been referred to as childhood obsessions of yours – Chip Otto and Houdini, so could you talk a little about this?
MB: I guess Houdini has become something else for me, but I think the reference at the beginning was to do with this concept of being put under resistance, a self-imposed resistance with a creative potential, and this tended to ignore the fact that he was a showman. It was more about learning the devices of restraint so thoroughly that it became an intuitive practice, so that he could really go into any situation where, for example, a police force would be invited to put him in a straight jacket and lock him up with any type of lock of their choice, and he would already understand every possibility of lock combinations and would have a pick hidden away on his body somewhere to get out of that situation. So it was a very physical and mechanistic practice that became an intuitive gesture, and that interested me a lot – the process of getting to that point, the preparation. And Otto ended up being a kind of analogue to that in some ways. He was the quintessential competitor in his refusal to miss any games – he never missed a football game. He had an absurd number of leg injuries and knee replacements, over and over, and he would still play. He was a sort of masochist.
HUO: And for around 15 years, from '60 to '75, right?
MB: Yes. He was known as a sort of iron man – you know, nothing could stop him. He was an excellent player. I guess there was also a need at that point to find a character who could define the difference between the field of competition and that field of preparation, the development of a pool of potential. Otto's interesting in that way because he was a centre, and the centre puts the ball into play – once he moves the ball the clock starts, and if you imagine Houdini as the quarterback who has to receive the ball, it puts those two, even though they're on the same team, into an interesting opposition – one who is resistant to accepting that level play, and the other who's really interested in getting it started.
HUO: You mentioned constraint before, and I was wondering about this oscillation between constraint and escape. You mentioned this Drawing Restraint series and with this there was also such an oscillation. Do you think this is somehow related to the bigger issue?
MB: That was very much in my mind when those pieces were being made, for sure.
HUO: The Drawing Restraint series was started early and then went on, in a similar way to Cremaster, but before talking about Cremaster, can you talk about the evolution of the Drawing Restraint series?
MB: There were a lot of them made before '91 that were similar in their intentions. And those were all tests. Environments were set up in the studio to challenge drawing in a very direct way. Drawing Restraint 7 was made a couple of years later and that was after my interests had moved a little more towards narrative. Within the story of Drawing Restraint 7, there are three sailors – one who drives the vehicle, (which is me), and that character just chases his tail endlessly, and there are two characters in the back of the vehicle who are collaborating in some way, one is putting various wrestling holds on the other, where the head is controlled, and then trying to make a drawing in the sunroof while the conversation is building up. It's an attempt to make a drawing of the horn of the sailor who's being restrained, using his horn as a drawing tool. What ends up happening is that as the vehicle moves through different bridges and tunnels into Manhattan, the drawing erases itself and has to start over again. It would be fair to say that it's about the same in fact, the project's probably more to do with a kind of resistance on theatrical delivery or something. One of the things I got very interested in once I started storytelling was how an actor could be involved in this without becoming mannered. And one of the ways this happened was to put the actor in prosthetics and in this case adding another joint to the legs of the sailors and putting them in an extremely claustrophobic environment in the back of the limousine. At the start there was very little acting happening, and in fact they were just trying to move. That ended up informing a lot of the characters in the Cremaster series.
HUO: So that was the transition. When I saw Drawing Restraint 7 for the first time, it struck me that there was not only an introduction of narration, but also for the first time in your work and later appearing in Cremaster, there are more links in terms of mythology, and I was wondering how this emerged?
MB: I think it happened not exactly by chance, but it happened in the project that preceded Drawing Restraint 7 which was OTTOshaft at Documenta, in a story which took place in a parking garage and the various elevator shafts, using these different locations, a bagpipe was trying to be drawn and became the bag while the elevator shafts became the drone. And I guess that somewhere between the myth of pan, the panpipe and the formal alignment of the way that the pipers really start to look like fawns running through a forest in the parking garage, I think several known myths came forward in an unexpected way. I wanted to see if the project could live inside a story and still remain an abstract piece, not unlike the way the Cremaster pieces align themselves with a cinematic genre and hopefully still come out on the other side and become something else. It interests me to see how far out into unknown space the project can go and still come back in a way that satisfies me.
Jonathan Bepler: There's a funny question about objects, because in a way the impulse to edit is kind of like making the performance into an object, and also the object as a piece of sculpture. I think there are two layers of that in the films, where the actors themselves are just objects and the whole thing is a kind of piece of sculpture. You were speaking earlier about making objects and drawings – did you exhibit that at the time, or when did you start exhibiting objects in addition to the film or video objects?
MB: Certain of the Drawing Restraint pieces were opposed to it being about an outcome, and was much more to do with the apparatus, the system that made it, the process. I guess something changed a bit when the emphasis on storytelling sort of shifted, and became more instrumental in making distillations of the narrative or of the characters into objects or drawings, to make the piece clear, and it had never felt that way before.
HUO: It is interesting to follow up this question of the object. Throughout the '90s there was a lot of critique of the object and the object has often been described as a trigger for something else, or an excuse. What do you think about this – are the objects in your works triggers for the things which happen?
MB: They very much work in a way in which the object always comes first. Well, the apparatus always comes first and that happens occasionally these days, though more often it's the opposite – the narrative falls into place and the object follows. But I think in either case they are both very necessary for me to complete the story.
HUO: Moving on to Cremaster, again let us start at the beginning. Where did the name come from?
MB: It actually started with the project OTTOshaft, about fracturing a narrative into a number of different locations and then bringing them together as one. OTTOshaft came together as a bagpipe with four or five extensions, what there'd be on the end of the drone. It probably started as a literal extension of OTTOshaft and how five locations could be assigned to the mouthpiece, the bass and tenor drones. That was something that was fractured and could be projected onto the landscape. And at around that time I started talking to James Lingwood about working on a project and we came to an arrangement whereby the project landscapes were celtic. I ended up travelling around the Isle of Man and finally arriving – things kind of fell into place that year.
HUO: And how did the title for Cremaster come about?
MB: Just going back to the Drawing Restraint series, there was a system that I had laid out in a way to try to eliminate exhibiting the drawings in some way; the system started in a place called Situation, which was a sexual place, about trying to define drive or desire, and passed through a kind of visceral thing that would shape that drive, and that was called Condition, and then Production was an anal or oral output that would hopefully be bypassed by connecting those two orifices and making a circular system, so Condition, the sexual station, was always drawn as a reproductive system before the point of differentiation between the male and the female. I was at a wedding – my sister's wedding! [laughs], sitting next to a doctor, a guy that I grew up with in Idaho, and I was talking to him about this system, and he said "you should really take a look at the Cremaster muscle". I think because of the general way I was talking about this in an attempt to keep things in a general space, in a space that's potentially many things and not fixed. I think he understood the relationship to the Cremaster muscle, in the way it moves the reproductive system, and a story could be developed about a sexual system that could move at will, then it would be the Cremaster muscle that does that (although in actual fact it doesn't), but within this fantasy that is what it would do. So that is something I owe to Doctor Long!
HUO: And at that time was it already clear that Cremaster was going to become a whole series?
MB: It began as five locations, though two of them changed slightly. The Isle of Man started out as a location in Ireland, but that was adjusted. Cremaster 2 changed twice; originally it was going to be the Columbie Ice Fields and then it switched to the White Sands Desert before reverting to the Columbie Ice Fields.
JB: And how long did you figure it would take?
MB: A lot shorter. At that time the projects I was making would take six months, so I thought I could do it in a year.
HUO: This numbering process: I think Richard Florence said that you are really like George Lucas – was this something you had in mind?
MB: I think the thing about having access to the Isle of Man first, simply because I was approached by an English curator to work in an unspecified place in that area, and by doing that first, I enjoyed the fact that it wouldn't fall together in a linear fashion in terms of narrative, so I guess it felt right at that point to go back to one and establish a boundary of five. At that time I felt pretty certain that ending in the middle would be the way to do it.
HUO: Earlier we were talking about fetishism, and it could have been asked before, in the text of Murray Wakefield who sites Sylver Roquinot a lot, and then talks about the issue of violence, ".violence assumes in sadomasochism which is not a fictitious exercise in private fetishism, but a highly ritualistic form of social therapy", and that's something we could inject into the path we were following before.
MB: Talking about that discussion of resistance, I think that really the way that it's been used in his projects is more to do with an understanding that I had of my body, and not necessarily about the way in which I relate to other people's bodies, in my experiences as an athlete, developing and specialising my body for that practice, and meaning came out of that experience.
HUO: What form of athlete are you?
MB It's something I grew up with from a very young age – I used to play American football and American wrestling, and I think those are the things that have been most useful to me in these matters.
HUO: Returning to Cremaster, in Cremaster 4 there is a very strong narrative in terms of the beginning and the end compared to all your other work, so in between this beginning and end there is the motorcycle theme, which more than in all the other Cremasters has such a clearly defined start and end. Could you tell us about this?
MB: I think that definitely from the beginning Cremaster was trying to take on a cinematic language that I hadn't dealt with before, and wanting to see how this sculptural project could align itself with cinematic form and still come out as a sculptural project. And really it was the first time that I had made single channel pieces at all, knowing that they would be seen from beginning to end, enjoying the way that the others could be seen for a number of minutes in the middle of one of the channels and move on to the next channel and gain a perfectly adequate experience from it without having to see the entire channel in any way. So these were different. Jonathan and I started working together in a serious way on Cremaster 5 – we had worked together on Cremaster 1 in post-production, but Jon's scoring really started in 5. And I think that was another shift in the way that I looked at these pieces, and truly allowing them to be a single channel experience with a beginning and an end. Putting the musical narrative on top of the visual narrative, and in the case of 5, really developing the two simultaneously, it solidified the experiment in a way. Up to that point I was probably still straddling two types of structure and something changes in 5, which I think has something to do with the music.
HUO: And how did the collaboration between the two of you start?
MB: We met through a mutual friend who was the Director of Photography on these projects. We had worked together previously and I was using found music for Cremaster 1, sort of discarded '30s film music which was in the public domain. I needed to bridge two pieces of found music and I had Jonathan to help me with that problem. So we started the concept of 5 with it being an opera essentially, and I don't think I had any at that time what request that was of a composer, though it seemed pretty straight forward at the time! [laughs]
HUO: And how was this collaboration from your perspective?
JB: When Matthew first came over I didn't know anything about his work; I'd heard a little bit from Pete about this "crazy" guy who was working in the studio. I think I felt we were quite different: I was coming from the direction of the of sound and its power, and I think it was all about performance and moments for me – making a piece out of something about altering states and going into another world. At the time I thought that this wasn't what he was doing or what I was being asked to do, but then I realised later on. After a while of thinking how different we were, I realised that it was the perfect kind of thing I needed to do. The first project was more about musical facilities, taking an Matthew had and then realising it, and it was interesting how little by little it became more of a collaboration, more of a shared responsibility.
HUO: So do you think that the collaboration has now come to a point beyond the commissioning of a sound track?
MB: Because of the experience with Cremaster 5, because of its nature, the two things had to be developed simultaneously. We went to Budapest with a finished work of music where Ursula Andrews could lip sink over a recording that we'd already made, so while the music was being developed the concept of the picture was being developed very organically, which was very satisfying. And I think that what ended up happening was that as we moved on to Cremaster 2 which didn't have those sorts of needs, there wasn't a need to develop music before the picture. For me, it was really helpful to develop the work, having an of how it would sound.
HUO: Following on from the music, I also wanted to ask about architecture because there is a Gesamtkunstwerk aspect of Cremaster where there is this bringing together of sculpture, architecture, film and music, and from the beginning of your work the architectural element has been present – you mentioned how Cremaster grew out of the Kassel installation which was a very architectural installation, so I wanted to ask you about architecture, and in particular in relation to Budapest, which then brings us to Vienna and the opera.
MB: I think it has a big relationship to the stadium, along the lines of Otto and Houdini as characters simultaneously being aspects of the field, so psychological facets of this field of competition that the stadium holds, and how quickly the stadium becomes a body in that sense. An image that I think was really useful to me, certainly in making Cremaster 1, and in thinking about a lot of these relationships between the characters and the architectural housing, is the notion of moving up around a stadium and feeling the vibration of all the people inside and getting up to the top and finding that the stadium is empty. It's probably some kind of waking dream, how a piece could somehow have that quality that was about activating a dormant body and how the opera house is probably even more like this in that it is built for acoustic reasons, it's built in a way like the chamber inside the body resonates. So too does the opera house and it's always excited me in that way. It's a place where scale relationships are thrown off by that fact, the very small figure on stage is able to make a dramatic projection unaided, because of the architectural container, and how that makes the space that surrounds the character part of the experience. I never used to understand why they turned the lights off at the opera, because the space is really a part of it.
JB: The issue of lights is something I've been thinking about; the of making a new opera was problematic in the sense that in a certain way opera is a thing of the past, and turning the lights off has something to do with the suspension of disbelief that happens when a performance starts, and I think that to make a new opera you either have to turn the lights off and go for it that way, or try to break everything. I think what's interesting is the fact that it's in that house, so you can turn the lights on and still say "I'm making an opera right now". So there's a certain self-consciousness to it. The way the piece runs where the queen starts singing about the room in the opera house itself in the language of the opera; there's a story that's taking place but we're also with her at the same time, and I think that's one of the most fascinating things about it, especially in terms of making a new piece. It can be an opera, but also self-aware.
HUO: Cremaster 4 starts with the island, which is confined and the opera is also a form of confined zone. It has been said a lot in relation to your work that you somehow infiltrate or infect such closed systems by bringing in some disturbance or virus or shift. I wanted to ask in a general sense whether it is also something to do with this confinement, this island that leads us back to your earlier descriptions of constraint? In Cremaster 2 it is more of a landscape.
MB: Yes, although I think, at least from my understanding of Cremaster 2, it is very important for that landscape to be drawable, or possible even to make as a sculptural form, from the Canadian Rockies where the glaciers are, through the American Rockies and down to the Salt Flats, which are all left behind by the same glacier. I don't think it's necessarily something that somebody would take away by watching the piece, but I think it's the only way I could make the piece, adding a confined form in the way the stadium is a contained form in 1, and the opera house and the bridge. When the concept was put together that there would be five locations that existed along a line on the map from west to east, it seemed very possible provided that these could be singular sculptural entities, and at that point it would be very possible to draw the lines between each of them – not just by me but by anybody.
HUO: And the master plan of these five spots was something you mapped out from the beginning?
HUO: So let me ask a question about your method. Because every time I visit your studio, I'm not only impressed by the incredible complexity of the sets which you build up in the studio, but also by the story boards which you display on the wall – including drawings, postcards, photography – a lot of research material which reminds me a little of Richter's Atlas in terms of its heterogeneity of materials and so forth. So could you tell me a little about your method of working and the method of research? Is it systematic – are you building up an archive?
MB: I think those story boards certainly started in a more typical way as a drawing practice, drawing the story boards. I'm thinking of the story boards which preceded the Cremaster pieces – those have very little other than drawing in them. Then Cremaster brought in more and more references and icons from other disciplines. I'm not sure I can answer the question actually, it's just a system that works for me. I can definitely say that I never had any intention of exhibiting them, it was simply a method. And with the exhibition that you made in Paris, that was the first time they had been exhibited, and at that time it did feel that it was an interesting thing to exhibit, and until that point had not been. They're really useful.
HUO: One of the things we have not yet spoken about is the question of the casting. You're not only bringing in a range of practitioners, but also actors, and in Cremaster 2 it was Norman Mailer. I wanted to ask you if you could tell me a little about this?
MB: I guess that there's a constellation between Mailer, Gary Gilmore and Harry Houdini that made the choice become reality. Mailer becomes very paternal to Gilmore as the author of The Executioner's Song, and although it's very brief in the book, the relationship to Houdini is that Gilmore's grandmother may or may not have had an affair with Harry Houdini at the World's Fair in 1893, and that is something that she took to the grave with her, whether it's true or not is unknown, but if it were, it would make Gilmore Houdini's illegitimate grandson. As the story became more to do with this leap from Gilmore's generation to Houdini's, it seemed an obvious choice to cast Mailer as Houdini, as the paternal character in that constellation. When Mailer was young I think he looked an awful lot like Houdini, but the issue of likeness wasn't really the point at all, it was more about the constellation. I think the kind of physicality that Mailer has is also really useful to the personification of Houdini – a slight brutality in the way that I think of these characters as physical states – they're more states of being, sometimes more refined, sometimes less refined. Casting somebody like Mailer, he brings with him everything he stands for to that role, and the types of characters that I gravitate towards, the icons, have a heavy physicality that way and keep the character from being a mannered, dramatic character, and to keep it in that physical space.
HUO: That leads us to Serra, whom you have cast for your new project.
MB: Yes, Richard's of course very good that way. And so with Ursula Andrews, who also has a slight brutality in that she is like an athletic sex symbol, whose shoulders are bigger than her hips.
JB: Is the sense of their notoriety ever a problem for you, as obviously they're seen by so many people, does other people's image of them act as part of the material?
MB: I think it's completely different depending on where it's seen and by whom. I'm very interested in that. And that's not just with those characters, obviously the TT is going to mean something completely different to somebody in Britain than it is to someone in America who's never even heard of it. So I think the same is true with the generational difference.
HUO: Serra might not be recognised outside the art world.
MB: Yes, which also felt right to me. I suppose there was, maybe, not quite an expectation, but maybe a logical step that the project could have taken towards cinematic form and toward dialogue, which is something that the other projects took baby steps towards. I felt pretty strongly against casting somebody who would advance the project in that way; it made more sense to bring it back.
HUO: A few years ago when I interviewed you, I asked you about your unrealised projects, and the project you named was Cremaster 3 about the Chrysler Building. And as you have already realised your unrealised project, I wanted to ask if you could speak a little more about the location of Cremaster 3, about this building and why it could be no other.
MB: It's always hardest to talk about the things that you're working on. I think it's to do with a number of things. Firstly, that this is the corporate headquarters of a maker of vehicles. Both of those things are important to me. It lends itself to other aspects of the project in that the vehicle is necessary to move the narrative across the landscape or to connect one story to the other, almost as if the entire project was about UPS, the United Parcel Service, that it would give the project a colour – which would be brown, and an air fleet and a ground fleet that would carry the story from one location to the next, and each location could still have a discreet logic and story in place, but that there would be a company in place to move it. Along those lines of thinking, the Chrysler Building satisfies some of those interests. But I think what's become most important about the Chrysler Building is that it is a reflector, and that it sits between the two halves of the story, and as a mirror it has some relationship to a level of narcissism or hubris that the character Cremaster 3 thinks for a moment that it can understand the entire form and see in both directions simultaneously, but in fact he can't, it can't have that final level of completion. And that's what Cremaster 3 has become about really.
HUO: And you're in the middle of it right now?
HUO: Talking about Cremaster 2 and now Cremaster 3, it might be interesting to speak about how your collaboration evolved.
MB: Yes, where we're up to right now. Do you feel that there is a big difference between what we're working on right now and the Utah project?
JB: I think for me, I was just saying that I think I have more and more of an involvement and an understanding of the whole thing; I felt that the musical sections of Cremaster 2 were a sort of end piece in themselves, and I thought about how that worked in the whole picture. And then finding with this one that it's more about figuring out the whole puzzle so that each element should make the other more understandable. It feels like it's taken a lot longer to be able to do something because there are so many questions that need to fall into place. I think also that we've got more of a language, more of an understanding of each other now. Some things are automatic where we don't have to talk about things so much, and that's good but it's also kind of difficult. I'm not sure whether it's about responsibility.
HUO: And what do you think about that Matthew?
MB: Some of the elements in this current project that we're trying, the land and the music, I think it's interesting that the piece is set in 1929/1930 when the Chrysler Building was constructed, so it has relationships with the conflicts between unions – one union who were stone masons and another who were mail workers. The story moves through the different floors of the building, getting up towards the top of the building, which is effectively a transmitter, and it moves into a space that isn't really set in time; in fact it feels almost like a video game and many of the actors and characters that were already in the film appear in the game, and that was shot in the Guggenheim on the different levels. Serendipitously there are five levels, which all take on different allegories to the five Cremaster chapters. And once that kind of transmission is finished, the story is transported to the Irish sea and it gets involved in the very old creation myth of the Isle of Man between a giant in Scotland and a giant in Ireland. And this we tried to film in a way that really felt like a child's fairy tale. So we end up with a collision of urban '30s music and a Celtic superimposition over that, as well as the more digital space of the video game. It's an interesting juggling act.
HUO: A journey not only through space but also through time.
MB: Yes, and musically I think it's maybe one of the more interesting problems we've had. In the past, the relationship between country and western music and the landscape was able to become fused with heavy metal and other American genres such as the tabernacle choir, that type of choral singing. That fell into place pretty easily, at least as an I can't say how easy it was for you, but this feels a lot more challenging, and is taking us longer to get sorted out.
JB: There's also the of this prototypical kind of electronic music that was happening, stuff that led to digital, dealing with that and digital space now.
HUO: You mentioned the Guggenheim, which is also where it will be shown, and that was also something I wanted to ask more about – the exhibition. Apart from Cremaster 3 on which you are working, you are also currently preparing your biggest exhibition so far, which will be the presentation not only of all the Cremasters but also of a lot of other things. So how does this fit in to the notion of the exhibition for the Guggenheim, curated by Nancy Spector?
MB: I'd like to say that one of the most exciting things about this problem of finishing this work is that for me it's a return to the of the piece of architecture as an instrument. If the building could sing, what would it sound like? On-screen noises that end up as part of the music, the way that the motorbikes function as a sound element – that's exciting to me because it feels like it's getting back to a place that feels more like home, and I think that this is also true of the Guggenheim in that the way that it is organised is around the part of Cremaster 3 that was made there, at least in the New York installation of it; it will have a site-specificity in that location that makes me feel very close to it, not unlike those exhibitions in '91 where there's a relation between the action and the place that you are standing. The building has five levels and it ends up being a perfect organisation to make an encyclopaedic show that's concise, that is about the Cremaster cycle that begins with 1 on the bottom and 5 on the top.
HUO: Will there be anything outside?
MB: Yes, the coat of arms will be on the facade. I'm just starting to talk about work on the parade at the beginning of the exhibition. I'm thinking it could function a little bit like the pallea, that it could start within the rotunda and work it's way out onto Fifth Avenue. We'd focus primarily on the horses that appear in the scene in Cremaster 3 – there are horses that are running that are dead. There are full-body prosthetic suits that we made for ten racehorses that contain three layers of anatomy – there's a layer of bone, a layer of tendon and a layer of skin, in various states of decay.
HUO: And then with your exhibition at Portikus where you develop a real space for each film, will it be like this?
MB: It will be the case in certain venues, for instance in Cologne there's a similar space that has a very close proximity to the exhibition space itself which I think works very well; in a museum environment to have the moving image really as part of the exhibition, whereas in other locations such as in Paris, we're hoping to build a space to hold the moving image to try to make it very central in the exhibition. In New York we have the possibility of it being a little more fractured in that there's a venue that's played all the Cremaster pieces – that's downtown – which will play the new piece simultaneously. The museum has a cinema in the space beneath the rotunda which actually feels right to me, to have them understood in the same footprint of the exhibition, and to put together special programmes where all five films can be shown sequentially in the same sitting once a week. I think every venue will have a different strategy on how to integrate the moving image and I think that's the real challenge of the exhibition, to integrate them with the sculpture in what is essentially a sculpture show, which is important to me, though the sculpture sort of needs the video.
HUO: Your films have been shown in cinemas and also the of showing them on TV in the Unites States – you've explored a lot of spaces other than art spaces; your work has gone far beyond the boundary of the art world in terms of its reception and impact, so I was wondering what the function of the art world is for your work today, and in general about how far you feel that the artwork needs to be protected?
MB: There are several questions in there. For me, it's critical that all these forms come together as one piece, and the museum is the place for that to happen. Different aspects, probably most easily the moving image aspects, can travel far beyond the walls of the museum and the further the better in my opinion. But at the moment I think the museum is the place to make the overall form very clear.
HUO: Would you like to answer this question about the museum from your perspective as a composer?
JB: I guess I'm interested in the that you can't separate performance or music from this context. I'm not very happy with most of the accepted contexts for music or ways of delivering music – that people listen to it at home or in a concert hall. At least the art context gives cause for thought about that, and a kind of control. There's something about the awareness and the importance of the context that is really helpful for me, and you know the that you're aware of what you're making and have the chance to make something which goes further out than if it is just out there somewhere.
HUO: Something we haven't spoken about is the notion of the book. The book has played an important role in your work since the beginning, and recently looking back at your catalogues, the very first catalogue you produced for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art catalogue seemed conventional but was actually designed almost as an artists book, and ever since you have done your Cremaster books as artists books. Could you tell me about the importance of the medium of the book for your work?
MB: I think they are certainly pieces in their own right, and I tend to think non-hierarchical in that the different aspects of the projects are symbiotic. What ends up happening over time, the thing that most people see might not be what you expect in the beginning, so it's the books that end up having the wider distribution, and that interests me for sure. The way that the moving image is slowed down and crystallised in a certain way in the books kind of fills in not some of the questions, but some of the elusive elements in the films that become more clear in the books. For instance, the photography in the books is from photographs rather than from video tapes, so it tends to have a resolution and a stillness that makes it possible to study the detail in a way that can't happen with the moving image, and it ends up really informing the way that somebody thinks about the film; in other words, they've understood the character through a photograph in the book although they might think they understand it through the film. And it was sort of a surprise that it was working that way. In a way perhaps more so than the framed photography, the books function like manuals and bring us closer to the narrative.
HUO: Another question relating to your books is that besides the editing and the layout that makes them into artists books, there is also a special feature of the Cremaster books which is this plastified cover with the stencil-like logo – I wondered whether those were designed by you because they make the book into an object?
MB: Yes, they are designed by me. I think that the way that the book started to excite me was in the way that every spread has a gutter. It started through a line, through some of the sculptural notions of deviating from the male cleft of the body, that sort of line of the residual split between the initial cell division, and from that symmetry, asymmetry can be introduced. The book really lends itself to that, and the notion of the gatefold. In that way the book can start to really become an orifice in certain cases with the ability to cancel or close the orifice in the way that the slipcover or the band can do. It began to feel like notions of drawing and the framing of the drawing, various entrances and exits from the sculptural works. Those are devices already in place in bookmaking, but I think that they lend themselves to the interests that I have.
HUO: Having realised your unrealised project, what projects do you have today that are still unrealised?
MB: At least within the Cremaster projects, the thing that wasn't realised that I think should have been was the desire to have made Cremaster 4 a broadcast piece from the start. If I'm honest that's how it would have been most pure, and that's something that I tried to do and couldn't make happen, and that may have changed the way the rest of the pieces have been exhibited. Certainly the solution became the cinema and then that became really appropriate in other chapters, but I think Cremaster 4 has a broadcast worth that is special – around the time of the TT race, as a form of infiltration.
HUO: And your unbuilt roads?
JB: Most of what I'm interested in now is happening or about to happen. I'd be interested to explore sound sources some more. I think that a movie theatre would be the place to try to push that, within that standardised context there are five speakers, so there's the ability to place sounds and it's not done very often. It's normally done where the rear speakers are meant to give a feeling of some kind of presence with a sound effect. So I'm looking forward to using that as part of the musical soundscape and using that standardised environment to create some physical effects. I've been interested in that before, but you couldn't count on the technology to really provide that and to know what power you're going to have.
MB: It's scary for us in our case in that you still can't count on it – being an art project and coming up against the walls of financial constraint and the fact that the only places that would be interested in showing these have technical limitations.
JB: Yes that's true, but in general it's a bit better. I feel a little more confident about going ahead and saying, okay this needs to be five channel, and hoping that they can come up with it. So that interests me. And with the Guggenheim, the of having sound sources there. For me, it's about relating back to the live thing.
HUO: A question I forgot to ask before. In the text by Richard Blood he says that he has asked you on two occasions for a list of films, and this includes Jean-Claude Genet's Delicatessen, Female Trouble by John Walters, a Ken Russell film, Hellbound, Tony Rendell, The Evil Dead, a five-minute Richard Prince screening where you chose five minutes out of Society, Brian Yussaf, a film which I don't know, and then he asked you the question again some years later and you said Flying Down to Rio, Necromancer 2, Olympia part 2, The Shining, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Is there anything to add to these lists at the moment?
MB: I think they tend to be about what I'm working on at the time. At the moment, the answers are fairly obvious to me – there's a movie called The Lift about a possessed elevator [laughs] which takes passengers: The doors open and a blind man walks into the empty elevator shaft and things like that. It's definitely that genre of film that I love, where the evil is embodied in a piece of architecture, and then The Fountainhead and various other films from the '30s that help with thinking about art direction in terms of what we're doing at the moment with the Chrysler Building.
HUO: And El Topo, Alexander Hollopovsky ?
MB: I've seen it. But the whole concept when working on the Guggenheim sequence, the game sequence, thinking about how characters move, yes.
HUO: To be continued. That's great, thank you very much. Perhaps the longest interview ever!