De Lama Lâmina — movie review — screener!
Posted on July 27, 2010 by Kris Nelson
**Warning: this review contains verbiage and concepts that the prude and the close-minded may find offensive. It was also written with a very literal, almost sarcastic tone, but if you know me, you know that I love Matthew Barney, and that I can be pretty darn sarcastic. Also, it’s pretty long, but you know when I’m excited about something, I can’t summarize for beans.
Hark back to the days when you, forest deity Ossaim, master of Candomblé medicine and patron saint of ecology, trapped in the muddy, mortal body of a Mr. “Greenman”, popped a morning woody (pun intended) and woke up to find yourself in the middle of Salvador’s Carnival, cradled by the comforting hull and lull of heavy machinery, a logging ‘dozer in this case, clamping a poor dead tree in its giant jaws. You’re not sure how long you’ve been asleep; long enough to sprout lichen on your skin and a turnip out of your butt at least. You’re dazed, yet enamored with the carcass of your pet baby tamarin (clue: in Brazil, golden lion tamarins are endangered by deforestation) and a looming rotating drive shaft which you just can’t seem to pry your eyes off of. But looking just isn’t enough for you, you tactile monkey you.
With the help of graceful cottony wisps drifting down from the action up above (more on that in a bit), the drive shaft soon becomes a pseudo-spindle, eager to envelop and lap up the textile tendrils your hands feed it, simultaneously threatening and endowing the apparatus. Like a reverse spun-sugar machine, the loose, virginal white threads (even thickly sprinkled with common craft glitter for that extra “fairy time” effect, oh no, beat us over the heads why don’t you) quickly combine with hydraulic grease and dirt, transforming materials, disappearing into a thick, smooth cylinder which completely engulfs what was once an easily recognizable destructive mechanical element (the drive shaft provides power while absorbing torque/stress).
Can you say phallic? Sure, but to me it was also quite maternal, as the gentle massaging and merging act could be both nurturing and protective (although mechanically, please keep your drive shaft clear from debris) and his feet are secured by loops that resemble birthing stirrups.
And here’s where it begins to get a little weird.
Your interest piqued (and nether regions piqued as well, judging from the ~two-minute shot of your lazy slug erection in the beginning), you just can’t help but rub your genitals against your creation, like some organic BDSM buffer. Because you’re rubbing your genitals against your creation, you just can’t help but get off. Symbolically, I believe, this is a clever way of driving home that this is an act of renewal and rehabilitation, but I’ll admit that you really have to want to see past the garishly provocative imagery.
Then the turnip flourishes from your butt and the garnet-black lily-like buds clutched in your duckbill mouth bloom on cue. Ecstatically, you squeeze the poop out of your monkey friend (literally — golden lion tamarin monkey feces is used in Candomblé medicine) on yourself and your member, as the audience tries not to laugh or I guess by this point, cry. It wouldn’t be a Barney production without a little (or a lot) hot wax/Vaseline, so let’s drip that on some bare skin and add it to the mix. Now let’s masturbate with that now, too. Why not?
I doubt anyone would find this writhing erotic, despite the obvious top physical shape the actors boast (“Greenman” was portrayed by two actors, Solise Morales as “Budding” and Vicente Pinho Neto as “Blooming” respectively); in fact, I thought it was Matthew Barney himself (a former footballer who worked as a preppy model to help pay for Yale and is still quite the corporeal sculpture himself).
While I was definitely distracted by the cringe-worthy proximity of his sensitive male bits to an unforgiving angry whirring machine (I was really worried he would soon add blood to the mix, accidentally), I have to say that if you break it down to mere forms and shapes, the foreskin* was extremely akin to wheel-thrown clay, adding to the idea of the ease of creation and destruction of Nature by Man.
*You can connect the dots as to religious implications, so I’ll spare you… this time.
So while all that is happening beneath the diesel behemoth, what’s happening top-side? Julia Butterfly Hill, a well-known eco-activist who lived in an ancient Redwood tree for 738 days to refute logging, here portrayed by nimble and quite masculine actress Chelsea Romers (above, in the tree in green), flits and sits from bough to bough, stringing the aforementioned cottony, glittery strands from her sleeves like a magician pulling scarves, pausing only to lovingly embrace each branch. Each branch has been lopped off and where the organic ends, a large cylinder juts out in its place, complete with waxy drippings. It’s like a table candelabra for a giant’s feast. From these “candles”, “Hill” later pulls out pristine white (totally Barney, probably made of prosthetic grade biodegradable [important!] polycaprolactone thermoplastic — stemming from Barney’s college plastic surgeon aspirations) rods of various lengths, complete with sprung carabiners, and very slowly constructs an openwork geodesic dome to huddle in. This portrayal probably stands for the will, courage, and power of one human’s act of strength and endurance, all to protect Nature and ultimately all of mankind.
Also of note is how the branches now resemble an open palm which seems to cradle Hill; the dome both hovers and rests like a ball in the giant hand.
Salvador’s Carnival is pretty different from Rio’s infamously flamboyant one, but the most important difference is that Salvador’s pinnacle is music, where the audience follows trio-elétrico bands along the streets. Popular American-Brazilian musician Arto Lindsay and the amazing high energy drum troupe Cortejo Afro (30 percussionists and 1,000 dancers in beaded face masks and Tvek costumes laser cut to mimic tree bark, all in snow white, of course, pictured left), formed a wall of sound as the backdrop and heartbeat of the performance. De Lama Lâmina also used a score not unlike David Lynch’s Eraserhead, with eerie and awful industrial whines and purrs. As the parade marches on, Greenman is completely shielded from the crowds, in fact I thought most of it was filmed at a different time/location.
At certain intervals, the float would pause, roaring aggressively as hired help jumped off the truck to strap metal tools to the six foot diameter tires with simple twine. The performance continues as the truck inches forward, the tools clacking against a metal plate set in place for such a purpose, captured by a hand-held mic. Upon research, I found out this was a reference to Ogun and the seven tools of destruction. Although Barney’s artistic goal was to exemplify Ogun’s connection to smithees’ usage of iron, polymer casts of the same weapons protrude from the uprooted tree on the float as well. While this holds true in Dahomey (Africa) mythology, in the Candomblé region, Ogun/Ogum is linked to Christian martyrs Saint George and Saint Sebastian, so I’m personally conflicted as Ogum seems to be enabling rather than disarming the Beast in this piece.
This, of course, is not my first encounter with interpretation confusion, which rarely occurs with any other artist besides Barney. I’m not saying I’m that deep, I’m saying that his work is terrifyingly specific for contemporary art. Unless you are immensely well-versed in current events, historical anomalies, and multi-cultural mysticism, you will walk away thinking Barney is an insipid ostentatious exhibitionist loon. What I love about his work, is that it is highly methodical and detailed to a fault, down to the key players and participants. What you may misconstrue as random is actually a literal tapestry of history, social politics, and legendary myth. I had to do some research into indigenous culture, but yes, most of it is quite straight-forward storytelling. It’s all about making connections out of supposed extremes: past and present, Man and Nature, fantasy and reality. It’s really fascinating for me… it’s like a puzzle I have to investigate and discover how everything’s related; some text mentioned Candomblé references and I was off running. I’ll admit it’s not for everyone.
Barney calls De Lama Lâmina, which translates to “from mud, a blade”: “a meditation on the creative process… Candomblé became a catalyst for finding a way to express a faith in the balances in nature… and through this faith being able to look at the world today without feeling hopeless.”
So, ultimately, I hope what you can glean from De Lama Lâmina is the many ways inhabitants of a region can treat an environmental plague. A forest god who accepts the travesty and hopes to incur healing, a human whom encourages perseverance and change, and a force that threatens to unravel it all.
The best part is that it proves that truth is stranger than fiction, and is presented to us in a manner that definitely drives that message home.
The re-release tour of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle and De Lama Lâmina hits San Francisco on July 30th, 2010.
SIDE NOTE: I love Matthew Barney, but I really have to wonder if there is a prankster dying to erupt from all this glorious pretention. Is he trying to see just how much he can get away with and still call elegant? Isn’t this what so many (successful) artists have done before him? In De Lama Lâmina, Greenman’s end scene made me chuckle because he sort of comically collapses from exhaustion. That must’ve been what Vito Acconci felt like after Seedbed.