Markus Kirschner

F#@&ing Machines

Matthew Barney - Hoist
Matthew Barney, “Hoist” (from Destricted, 2006) *Warning: sexual in nature*

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 and Here you will see porno that is surprisingly similar to Barney’s piece, but comes with no “artist statement.” Instead the websites’ parent company,, says they serve to deliver “an ethical and authentic experience to kinky adults looking to explore and celebrate their sexuality.”

In his 1996 film “Crash,” based on JG Ballard’s novel of the same title, David Cronenberg takes the image of metal and technology crashing into flesh (and its relationship to orgasm) to an extreme.

David Cronenberg, “Crash” (1996)

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.

Matthews Southern Comfort‘s cover of Joni Mitchell‘s “Woodstock.”

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.

Jimi Hendrix, “Star Spangled Banner” (1969)

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.”

Limp Bizkit, “Counterfeit” (Woodstock 1999)

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.

Bjork, “All Is Full Of Love” (1999)

- Markus Kirschner

  • Jowita Bydlowska

    Good essay. Made me think of Istvan Kantor’s stuff:

  • Peter Trachtenberg

    An interesting essay and an interesting array of videos, which evoke (in me at least) everything from revulsion to arousal, with stops along the way for admiration (Jimi’s pyromaniac version of “The Star Spangled Banner”) and irritation (Fred Durst preempting charges of bogusness by leveling the same against society. Hannah Arendt: “Where everybody is guilty, no one is responsible”).

    The thing is, human beings have been using machines ever since the seed drill, and worrying about what their growing dependence on those machines was doing to their humanity. But in earlier generations, the use of machines called forth the mastery of the user. You can see that mastery on display in the Hendrix video. He’s topping his guitar. Matthew Barney isn’t topping that spindle, though I imagine it took some craft to have congress with it without irreperably abrading his parts.

    • Sean Dixon

      But is Matthew Barney not rather trying to top our prewired methods of observing sex and the human body? If it were a video of a microscopic purple spore rubbing against the hair of a housefly and blorting out a drop of goo, we might observe it with some sense of awe and no arousal or revulsion (or mirth). Like Kirschner said, it takes a bit of time to figure out what we’re even looking at.

    • Markus Kirschner

      As both Peter and Liz noted, machines were at one time supposed be mastered by humans to make life easier. A few days ago I read a description of a computer as being colored “prison grey.” Lately, I can’t help feeling trapped by my laptop. I want to re-read John Ruskin’s lecture The Storm Cloud of the 19th Century about the effect of Industrialization on the environment. I can’t help but think something similar is happening between humans and computers.

  • Elizabeth Frank

    Markus, the Matthew Barney made me think of a line, I believe, of Gulley Jimson’s in The Horse’s Mouth, about someone’s work of art: “It was like farting ‘Annie Laurie’ through a keyhole: it may be clever but is it worth the trouble?” I thought machines are supposed to make things easier! Liz

  • pharmacy technician

    Nice post. thanks.

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Markus Kirschner is a filmmaker and production designer. Among his credits, he wrote and directed the short film "Communion" and production designed the 2012 documentary "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God," as well as Sundance 2010 selection, "3 Backyards," starring Edie Falco, Elias Koteas and Embeth Davidtz. He holds a B.A. from Bard College and an M.F.A. from Columbia University, New York.