Matthew Barney


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This morning I caught the aftermath of a subway rider who had just passed out on the train. He was leaning against the sliding doors that took you from car to car. A small group of people huddled close to him, pushing his anxious body up onto one of the heavy handicapped seats. His head was tipped back, his eyes were floating like fish in water. You could see him silently trying to make sense of what had just occurred. Why are these people around me? Why am I on the floor? It must have been the same look I gave when I fell to the floor a couple of weeks ago.

Moments before my fall I experienced a mental Pop! It seemed as if someone whacked me in the back of the skull, though I could feel no detrimental impact, nor was there any type of pain. I was just… shocked. But, no one can see the panic, the sheer distress of God knows what. My thoughts were a-fluttering like hummingbird wings, with crowds of big red warning signs blaring, blinking, flooding my nerves. Get off the next stop! Tell someone to get up! Sit on the floor! Don’t look nervous! Don’t look – WHOOSH! Out like a light.

This happened to me same time last year, on a subway train in Astoria heading into Manhattan. Around the same time too. A year before that I was sharing an elevator in a dungeon at around 3 or 4 in the morning. There was the heavy set bodyguard, the lanky headmistress, three other dommes, and two large garbage bags. A year or two before that in college during an emergency. A year before that I’m not quite sure. The first time was at a Matthew Barney exhibit in the Guggenheim. My friends would not stop making fun of me for that.

When I was a girl I watched crime shows and documentaries. None of which were fictitious, except for Unsolved Mysteries, which was a combination of Crime and the Supernatural. As a child, I was both scared and fascinated by Robert Stack’s chalky, serious-sounding voice.

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One story that I remember quite vividly is the re-enactment of a Hispanic teenager who is raped and temporarily blinded by her stalker boyfriend. She was 15 and he was in his late twenties. After suffering through an abusive and controlling relationship, she breaks up with him and tries to ignore him. While walking home on a nearly deserted road, the ex follows his girlfriend, sprays her with a can of mace, and drags her into the woods. She kicks and screams, but the area is a parkway surrounded by trees and is visited by very few cars. He spends hours torturing and raping her, then releases her onto the road-nearly naked and blind-while he scurries away. She’s eventually discovered, as is he. although he is immediately jailed, the young man escapes somehow and returns to the streets in search for her. One night he comes screaming up to her family’s house, breaking windows and threatening everyone with a knife. Panicked, family members lock the doors and move to the back of the home. He doesn’t stop until he sees the red and blue glare of distant lights. He immediately escapes, and hasn’t been found since. I was nine and home alone when I saw that story.

When I was in my teens, I stayed up late to watch shows like Autopsy, Rescue 911 and the various HBO shows that would feature murder, death, the law, etc. Somehow, I felt brave for watching the ugliness of the world, the unraveling of civilization and humanity. It sends shivers up my spine every time.

It’s been shown in my writing too. Right now, most of my well-developed ideas aren’t centered around anything crime-related. However, there are bursts of opportunity when I see it fit for a story that shows promise. I try to make good on this blessing, as I’m always inspired by true life crimes and famous criminals. Mary Bell, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein. The names alone make me feel weak, make me tremble. The stories, all of those lives wasted over twitches, malfunctions, mistakes, beliefs, prophecies, madness, lust, love, and godliness too. What the hell happened? I see it gradually bleed into my tales. Although I’m not too well-versed on the legal aspects of crime and murders, I’ve been more so involved with the psychological and emotional and, perhaps, mental aspects of crimes and murders. I often spin words around children of victims and criminals. I think of mental abuse and those involved. How one may justify violence for their beliefs. The uprising of a minority based on slaughter. That sort of thing. Hm.

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But, I did get this book recently that I read from cover to cover. It is a genius how-to for writers on how to write accurate and honest portrayals of death, crime, murder, and the law. The author speaks directly to me, shows me how to use suicide to add a twist. Or how to use the appropriate medical terms in an intense scene between a doctor and his dying patient. I even learned about strangulation lines on a victim’s neck! There’s a whole series of this stuff! I want to get the next book in the series about poisoning and how to use it in fiction. Man!

One of my favorite chapters is about capital punishment. It’s a very informative chapter to read. It lays out important statistics of how more violence is perpetuated in areas where capital punishment is performed. They even had a whole section on the various methods used to condemn dead men walking in the U.S., and their fatal effects on the suffering criminal. Yes, everything was put in such obscene detail, right down the mush of organs that bleed out of a criminal’s body during the electric chair (just an exaggeration, not totally true). An excerpt of Capote In Cold Blood is found in the information about hangings. I was most engaged by the description of a firing squad. You’re taken to the center of a field with a bag over your head and they shoot you in the chest, which is covered by a fairly big red target. The only thing that could go wrong is if a shooter misses due to sympathy or a shaky finger. Otherwise, you’re out like a light. fucil

When I read about that, I felt a strange sort of deju vu, as if I had seen the whole thing before. You know, Salt Lake City is either still using or was once known for using this method as a form of execution. I remember this because Matthew Barney made his trip to Salt Lake City a part of his art exhibition a few years back. I heard the pleasant narration gently flowing about the spirals of the Guggenheim. I passed a skeletal frame of a car completely covered in beeswax. I heard him speak about a killer who met his demise by firing squad. Then, my head hit the floor.

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