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Wolves at the Door: Matthew Barney on Animals, Alchemy, and Art in His New Film and Exhibition, ‘Redoubt’

Deep into Redoubt—Matthew Barney’s new film about animals, alchemy, and the astronomical alignment of earthly bodies and heavenly stars—a pack of wolves wanders into a house and tears it to shreds. A lot of enigmatic action leads up to the disembowelment, much of it quiet and subdued. The mostly wordless movie is set in central Idaho, in remote hinterlands marked by mountains and trees that seem to stand in wait of whatever ghastly or graceful happening might transpire in the wild. Barney stars as one of the main characters, a U.S. Forest Service worker who boasts a burly beard and takes up landscape drawing by unconventional means. Choreography figures in the storyline, first through movement barely discernible as dance and later in forms that turn more conspicuous.

Other characters at the film’s core are Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, and two nymphs (identified as “Calling Virgin” and “Tracking Virgin”) who accompany her in the matter of translating animalistic endeavors into cosmic terms. And then there is a figure known as the Electroplater, who transforms Barney’s landscape drawings into emanations in metal by way of a process involving voltage shot through a cathode sunk in a chemical bath....

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