Lánchíd: The Lament of the Queen of Chain, 1997

The sculpture Lánchíd: The Lament of the Queen of Chain appears both to evolve from the narrative of CREMASTER 5 and to elaborate on its symbolism. The film takes place in Budapest, the birthplace of escape artist Harry Houdini. Houdini appears recurrently in several of the CREMASTER films as a character who embodies the main themes in Barney’s artistic practice, such as the potential for metamorphosis and transgression. The title of the work references the Lánchíd Bridge in Budapest, the first bridge that was built to connect the two parts of the city, Buda and Pest. Lánchíd means “chain bridge” in Hungarian and this majestic chain bridge acts as one of the characters of the film, alongside The Queen of Chain, her Diva, her Magician and her Giant. In CREMASTER 5 the narrative evolves around the Queen, mourning her lost love, who is seen jumping from the Lánchíd Bridge with his hands and feet chained, much like the famous escape artist. 

Lánchíd: The Lament of the Queen of Chain could be considered a synthesis of the external and internal story lines in CREMASTER 5. While referencing the bridge, the transparent sculpture is cast in the shape of a structure from the other main location and character of the film: the Gellért baths and its beautiful Art Nouveau stairway. In the film, the Queen’s Giant and Sprites inhabit these thermal baths. The transparent sculptural stairway is filled with clusters of glass pearls, referencing the sea of pearls through which the Giant makes his way in the baths. The pearl is a material of transformative potential that appears throughout The CREMASTER Cycle. A collapsed plastic shape resembling the Queen’s dress is situated on the top of the sculpture. On each corner of the sculpture are representations of the Queen’s tiara, which is an abstract creation of the ‘descended’ or fully sunken stage of the human reproductive system. Representing the grief of the arrival of this final stage, the framing black walls lend the sculpture the gloomy atmosphere that dominates the film. The stairway is adorned with plastic representations of the ribbons that the Queen’s Diva is seen laying on the stage of the Hungarian State Opera, while the Queen observes from her throne in the royal booth. This distinctive throne appears on each side of the top of the sculpture. This parallel duplication of the thrones echoes the duality inherent in the biological process of sexual differentiation that is the conceptual fulcrum of The CREMASTER Cycle.

In the film, the Queen can peek down through orifices in the throne and see the Giant and Sprites in the Gellért baths. A pair of shoes emerges up from each of the thrones on the sculpture, legs pointing upwards as if someone is stuck in between these two realms. Using the bridge as a metaphor for the potential connection of two different sites, the sculpture embodies the Cycle’s inherent longing for an equilibrium between the two forces. Its translucent material evokes the impression of a crystallised moment, such as the decisive moment near the end of the film when a stream of liquid from the Queen’s mouth, in two separate droplets, strikes the surface of the pools in the Gellért baths below. All these dual elements serve to indicate not only the two potential outcomes of the biological process, but also two potential endings of CREMASTER 5, which never reaches a conclusion but recommences in an eternally cyclical movement.

(Therese Möllenhoff)

Address: Strandpromenaden 2, 0252 Oslo

© Astrup Fearnley Museet