The penultimate installment of his five ground-breaking films, Matthew Barney's Cremaster 4: Valve continues his exploration of post-human mythologies and has come to be regarded as the work which most closely matches the entire project's central theme-an exploration of the fundamental nature of life. Set on the Isle of Man and closely linked to its Celtic mythology, the film combines ancient stories with contemporary events (the island's world famous T-T motorcycle race) to produce an enigmatic work that examines the nature of reality and existence. The film's central character, the Loughton Candidate (played by Barney), is a satyr with two sets of impacted sockets in his head-four nascent horns, which will eventually grow into those of the mature, Loughton Ram, an ancient breed native to the island. The other characters in Barney's alternate world are a pair of racing motorcycle teams and a trio of androgynous fairies who, in Barney's exegesis of the work, "occupy the three narrative fields inhabited by the Candidate and the two racing teams" (M. Barney, The Cremaster Cycle, http://pastexhibitions.guggenheim.org/barney/cremaster_4/index.html).
Continuing the overall theme that has defined much of the artist's oeuvre, Barney uses this film to explore our reliance on symbolism to explain how our world works. The four images that comprise Cremaster 4: Valve appear in the opening sequence of the film, as the satyr character is unveiled. As he combs his hair, Barney reveals the openings from which his large horns will eventually grow. The obvious sexual symbolism of these orifices, combined with the sexless bodies of the fairies, establishes the theme of the rest of the film as an increasing number of metaphors develop into a narrative which begins to explore the fundamental biological nature of life.
Borne out of the visual style and imagination of a post-StarTrek generation, Cremaster 4: Valve brings together an amalgam of modern and ancient symbolism to convey its fantasy-like narrative. As the curator James Lingwood suggests, this work belongs to first generation for whom video games and movie special effects had become the norm, and who often felt that an invented world was often a more stimulating than the real one: "Cremaster 4 is a drama of unresolved dualities, and the energies they produce. Into the body of the film, Barney has incorporated elements from televised sport, horror film, heraldic drama and biological drawing to create an internalized landscape of competing drives. The narrative fades away an instant before man and machine, sheep and satyr collide - before they crash at the point of union, consummate the holy grail of desire" (J. Lingwood, Matthew Barney: Cremaster 4, exh. cat., Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York, 1995, n.p.).