Posthumanism in Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle: Autopoiesis and the “Hermetic State”


  • Irina Chkhaidze University College London, UK


Posthumanism, contemporary art, second-order systems theory, autopoiesis, Matthew Barney, Niklas Luhmann, Cary Wolfe, Bruce Clarke


This article analyses Matthew Barney’s Cremaster cycle (1994-2002) as a film series including its accompanying multimedia works, arguing for the posthumanist orientation of the cycle on structural and thematic levels of the narrative, as well as the use of material. As an interdisciplinary critique in the humanities and social sciences, posthumanism is set against the anthropocentric discourse of humanism and its speciesist structures that reproduce the normative human subject through the dichotomy of humanity/animality. Looking at how the cycle represents nonhuman and human beings, and environments from a specific perspective is pertinent for situating the work in the context of recent posthumanist theories, particularly as articulated in Cary Wolfe’s writing. Furthermore, in my discussion of a multifaceted self-referential system of the cycle and a recurrent theme of the “hermetic state”, I rely on the concepts developed by German second-order systems theorist Niklas Luhmann who introduced a radically posthumanist view into social theory, especially his notion of autopoietic systems combining operational closure and structural openness. Drawing on this theoretical framework I argue that the Cremaster cycle embodies a complex self-referential narrative in tension between differentiation and undifferentiation, where ideas of biological development as well as conventional species boundaries are disrupted through a radically nonanthropocentric depiction. Through the analysis of Barney’s project, I observe how these theoretical paradigms destabilising humanist notion of subjectivity have been taken up in contemporary art and how, by directly engaging our perception, these works are contributing to the wider posthumanist debate.




How to Cite

Chkhaidze, I. (2015). Posthumanism in Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle: Autopoiesis and the “Hermetic State”. Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image, (7), 107–130. Retrieved from