Matthew Barney’s latest project is a re-imagining and re-interpretation of Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings as an opera performed live in seven acts over a number of years. This epic undertaking transposes Mailer’s hypersexual story of Egyptian gods and the seven stages of death and reincarnation on to the rise and fall of American car industry, casting Cremaster 3’s 1967 Chrysler car as the main protagonist in the first act, REN. In this act we witness the dismantling and destruction of the Chrysler as its badges and emblems are removed, signifying the first stage of death, Ren, the loss of your secret name. In the second act, KHU, the Chrysler Imperial is reincarnated as a Pontiac Firebird which makes its way through the streets of Detroit before crashing over the side of a bridge into the river below. The “body” of the car is ceremoniously transported down the Detroit river where it is then fed in to the furnaces of a disused steel mill. The resulting molten iron is then released and poured into a cast of the underside of a car. Throughout all of these performances characters come and go performing the opera, created in collaboration with Jonathan Bepler who also worked on the Cremaster Cycle. Another returning collaborator is Aimee Mullins who takes on the part of Isis. For the remaining acts, the performances will move from Detroit to New York and will be performed over the coming years. Whilst the project was conceived as a live action piece, Barney has been filming each of the performances which will hopefully be exhibited in the future.
In 2011, Barney had a solo exhibition at Gladstone Gallery in New York, at the centre of which was the cast of the car created during the Khu performance. In addition a number of drawings were presented which map the development of the project. As part of the exhibition, Barney produced a libretto, a short form booklet describing the project and the performances to date. In addition to the text, the booklet also contained a number of shots from the performances along with images of the sculptures and drawings. The libretto was produced in an edition of 2500 and was given away free as part of the exhibition.