Matthew Barney's sculpture and molecular biology
April 19, 2008 2:50 AM   Subscribe

Has there been any critical recognition of the similarity of the sculptures of Jachin and Boaz from Matthew Barney's Cremaster 3 to important helical structures (the DNA helix and the alpha helix) from molecular biology?

I've been thinking about this for awhile, and I cannot find any commentary about it on Google, which is driving me crazy, because I cannot be the only person who has noticed it. Unfortunately, seeing this image is going to be tricky, because fucking artists just love fucking stupid flash. Here's a link to the site for Cremaster 3. Click on 'Characters' on the right. Now click on 'Hiram Abiff' towards the bottom on the left. That's the picture I'm interested in. Those two sculptures represent the pillars--Jachin and Boaz--that supported Solomon's temple, as crafted by Hiram Abiff. In Barney's representation each pillar is a helix. One has two distinct pitches, a minor grove and a major grove, the major grove about twice the width of the minor grove. The second has a single pitch, about half the width of the minor grove of the first. B-DNA (our canonical double helix) has two groves, the minor grove with a width of 12 Å and the major grove with a width of 22 Å. The alpha helix has a helical spacing of 5.4 Å.

I look at that image and I see the central dogma staring right back at me. Has anyone else noticed this? I can't find any relevant commentary.
posted by mr_roboto to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What is your point?
Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle (1994–2002) is self-enclosed aesthetic system consisting of five films that explore processes of creation.
Watson and Crick discovery of the double helix structure dates back to 1953.
Why would it be surprising that Barney use common knowledge in his work?
posted by bru at 8:20 AM on April 19, 2008

I thought the same thing when I saw it. Matthew Barney went to Yale, which has some of the world's great molecular biologists; I'd be surprised if this were accidental. When I saw all the helices in Barney's Guggenheim display of his sculptures a few years ago, I was reminded of Ted Sturgeon's The Golden Helix (1954), in which a golden double helix encodes the secret of life.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:37 AM on April 19, 2008

Response by poster: I don't think Barney's use of a biostructural reference is the least bit surprising. I'm a little surprised that I can't find it mentioned in any of the extensive critical commentary on Cremaster. I thought someone more familiar with the critical literature might be able to point me somewhere.

What is your point?

It's an idle question. Maybe it's kind of chatfiltery; sorry if you think so.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:01 AM on April 19, 2008

That's interesting. Helices are repeated throughout Cremaster 3 (the maypole, the Guggenheim itself).

All I can find on Google is a reference to this book, which might include something of note, and might not.
posted by painquale at 10:08 AM on April 19, 2008

Sometimes people mistakenly assume that something that is "common knowledge" to them is "common knowledge" to everyone, which is my guess as to why there's no citations that you were able to pull up in regards to Barney's sculptural pillars. I was blown away by the Guggenheim show, but also found myself scrambling to decode many of the references as well in the following weeks (which I consider an attestation to the strength of the work, rather than a weakness of accessibility, in so far as I was engaged enough by what I'd seen to continue to research the themes more thoroughly in later weeks). I'm fairly certain that within a year or two there will be a multitude of academic thesis papers churned out by MFA and PHD candidates that will likely address The Cremaster Cycle down to this level of detail. I mean, look at what Harry Potter has spawned!

ps- kldickson, the subject of the question is a multimedia piece by an artist named Matthew Barney, not a video game. The name "Cremaster" was chosen for its specific definition.
posted by stagewhisper at 11:40 AM on April 19, 2008

Matthew Barney interview: Document filmed during the preparation of the exhibition "The Cremaster Cycle" at the Astrup Fearney Museum of Modern Art, Oslo.

The Believer's interview is also very good - but you'll have to buy it.
posted by xod at 10:36 AM on April 24, 2008

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