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Abstract

In their article "Artaud, Barney, and the Total Work of Art from Avant-Garde to the Posthuman" Matteo Colombi and Massimo Fusillo discuss the aesthetics of Matthew Barney's video-performance art and the theater of Antonin Artaud. Colombi and Fusillo highlight the characteristics of the posthuman: the rejection of Western anthropocentrism and its subversion through hybridization with human, animal, and mechanical elements, the incorporation of Dionysian imagery of the body, and a commitment to the idea of the total work of art in its blending of different artistic mediums, and indeed, of art and life. Using examples from Artaud's writings on theater, Colombi and Fusillo suggest that these features are also to be found in avant-garde aesthetics. The most evident link between Artaud's théâtre de la cruauté and Barney's video circle Cremaster appears the ambition to create a total work of art in which a kaleidoscope of stages/landscapes is brought to life by performers whose corporal training — one centered on the energy produced by means of contraction and relaxation — resembles that of an elite athlete. While both Artaud's and Barney's aesthetics are similar in their rejection of the clear, stable distinctions of rational thought, they differ in their structuring of the artist's struggle to reshape the human body. While Artaud's theater is tied to an avant-gardist utopian teleology, Barney stresses the inevitable inconclusiveness of every total work of art.