Matthew Barney: River of Fundament

A symphonique movie by Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler

  • © Hugo Glendinning
    (c) Hugo Glendinning
  • © Hugo Glendinning
    (c) Hugo Glendinning
  • © Chris Winget
    (c) Chris Winget
  • © Hugo Glendinning
    (c) Hugo Glendinning
  • © Ivano Gasso
    (c) Ivano Gasso

Combining many different art forms – cinema, opera, concert, performance, and sculpture, River of Fundament tells an epic, allegorical story of becoming and passing against the backdrop of American industrial landscapes. This film opus, loosely based on Norman Mailer’s novel Ancient Evenings (1983), shows the death and rebirth of two figures: the American writer Norman Mailer and an anthropomorphic automobile. Mailer’s novel is set in Egypt of the pharaohs and is told from the perspective of a man who has to cross a river for each reincarnation. On the third and final attempt, he fails. Artist Matthew Barney and Berlin-based composer Jonathan Bepler locate Mailer’s story in modern America. It was back in 2007 that Barney and his team began staging individual scenes as spectacular, symphonic site-specific performances that prefigured the film as one of the most original and ambitious projects in the art world today.

The hero’s longing for transformation takes on different incarnations during the course of the narrative: the Chrysler Imperial is followed by a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am and finally a Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. The landscape is shaped by rivers, highways, and major thoroughfares through which the automobile undertakes a journey from Los Angeles to New York via Detroit. Films documenting these outdoor performances are combined with film scenes reminiscent of chamber theater. The central scene is a wake for the deceased writer filmed in a replica of his last brownstone apartment in Brooklyn Heights. In this virtuosic key scene, which is imagined as a lavish dinner party important figures from New York’s literary community pay final homage to Norman Mailer, including Salman Rushdie, Liz Smith, Dick Cavett, Lawrence Weiner, Larry Holmes, and Matthew Barney himself.

River of Fundament features a notable ensemble of international artists and amateur performers. Singers like Joan La Barbara and Lila Downs or actress Deborah Harry play side by side with workers and specialists in iron smelting, automobile demolition, and sulfar casting. As in Jonathan Bepler’s early compositions, the musical component in River of Fundament is an autonomous element that shapes the sublime and transgressive states within the narrative. In an elaborate network, Matthew Barney, one of the most important contemporary artists, interweaves old and modern myths with his videos, installations, and environments from the last twenty years.

Script and Direction —
Composition and Musical Direction —
Coproduction —
Matthew Barney und Laurenz Stiftung
Camera —
Peter Strietmann
With —
Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Gyllenhaal, John Buffalo Mailer, Matthew Barney, Aimee Mullins, Paul Giamatti, Elaine Stritch, Joan La Barbara (Sopran/Soprano), Milford Graves (Percussion), Eugene und Herbert Perry (Bariton), Belita Woods (Funkbluessängerin/Funkbluessinger), Lila Downs (Ranchera-Sängerin/Ranchera-Singer), Shara Worden (Sopran/Soprano), Deborah Harry (Sängerin, Schauspielerin/Singer, Actor), Dr. Lonnie Smith (Singer, Actor/Composer, Organist), Mystic River Singers (indianische Pow Wow-Gruppe und weitere Musiker/Native American Pow Wow Group and other Musicians)


— 31. August
— ca. 6 h / 2 intermissions
New Work
In English with German surtitles
— 20 / 25 / 30 €
Reduced prices start at 10,00 €
  • Sun31Aug
    Matthew Barney: River of Fundament on 31. August 2014 at 3.00 PM


Jonathan Bepler / Markus Müller
31. August 2014
Museum Folkwang, Essen

Press Comments

Es ist gigantischer, irrsinniger und schöner als alles, was er bisher gemacht hat.

— SZ Magazin, 28.02.2014

"River of Fundament" ist bildgewaltig, verstörend und hypnotisierend wie Barneys frühere Arbeiten.

— Monopol Magazin, 13.03.2014

The worldwide tour of River of Fundament is organised on behalf of Matthew Barney by Manchester International Festival.