On first viewing it took me half a minute to figure out what exactly is happening in this video. Yes, those are Matthew Barney’s genitals rubbing against what seems to be a giant spindle covered in petroleum jelly (9:00 onwards). A dirty root vegetable protrudes from his anus as he flexes his body back and forth. He works himself up to orgasm.
In the liner notes, “Hoist” is described as an “exploration of the idea of the sexual transmission of man and machine, flesh and metal, will and submission.” I suggest taking a look at the pornographic websites buttmachineboys.com and fuckingmachines.com. Here you will see porno that is surprisingly similar to Barney’s piece, but comes with no “artist statement.” Instead the websites’ parent company, kink.com, says they serve to deliver “an ethical and authentic experience to kinky adults looking to explore and celebrate their sexuality.”
Here the metal and technological imprints on James Spader’s body become his conduit to human contact. When Elias Koteas slowly peels back the bandage to reveal the burned-in brand of an automobile hood ornament, he is immediately aroused. He licks Spader’s scar. Spader pulls Koteas up, physically demanding that Koteas look him in the face. Unlike Barney and the models in buttmachineboys, Spader seems to desire acknowledgement that he’s a human being, not simply branded flesh.
In antithesis to these images of flesh and metal, I keep thinking about the 1969 Woodstock festival, that orgy of hippie “free love.” In most of the footage I’ve seen of the festival there is an “organic” quality, an absence of technology.
The lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s famous song tell us the festival was about a return to “the garden,” a return to something peaceful, organic and humane — flesh against flesh, body against body, hippies careening into each other through cornfields, mud and water. But also present were super 8 cameras, VW vans and most famously Jimi Hendrix’s electric guitar and amp. Even in the organic garden of 1969 technology and electricity had made their mark.
I vaguely remember the feeble attempt to stage Woodstock 30 years after the original, when I was a teenager in 1999. As with many things my generation has attempted to re-create, the 1999 festival was a waste. Absent of any purpose, the festival was simply a big-business venture to capitalize on the teen music market.
Even the bands themselves seemed to recognize it. “Put your middle fingers up in the air!” yells Fred Durst to the crowd as he sings about counterfeit culture. “This goes out to the whole world that’s at home watching this shit.”
Mitchell’s organic garden has become a concrete jungle. “Reality bites but that’s what life is,” Durst raps. “Because you’re sick of yourself/well I’m sick of you too, fake.” The only way to allow reality is to embrace the fake.
I would like to stage a 50-year reunion of Woodstock in 2019. Once again 20-somethings will be longing for body connectivity, peace and “organic” connection, but instead of wearing dashikis and carrying super-8s, instead of smashing into each other in the mosh pit, they’re on their tiny, portable computers experiencing the concert remotely, camming with the orgy that’s happening a mile down the road.
Perhaps the way to free ourselves from the machine is to become the machine. Not just branded or scarred, but wholly incorporated into the plastic and metal that otherwise can feel so binding. Maybe if we just submit, all can be full of love, even for us fucking machines.
- Markus Kirschner