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Liberating the Beast

The legend of the Minotaur revisited

     In Greek mythology, Poseidon created a glorious white bull to be used for superb sacrifice and sent it to King Minos of Crete. Upon witnessing the grandeur of the bull, the king was unable to comply, and instead offered another beast from his herd for sacrifice to the Gods. Enraged, Poseidon punished the king and caused his wife, Queen Pasiphäe, to fall passionately in love with the white bull. The desperate queen asked Daedalus, a highly respected and talented Athenian artisan exiled in Crete, for help. Daedalus facilitated Queen Pasiphäe’s union with the beautiful white animal, which led to the birth of the Minotaur, a beast with a bull’s head and man’s body. Shamed and furious by his wife’s indiscretion and the resulting birth, King Minos instructed Daedalus to construct an intricate labyrinth that would imprison the Minotaur for eternity. Further, the Athenian people were required to annually offer seven youths and seven maidens in sacrifice to the Minotaur.
    Approximately 2,000 years ago, Roman poet Ovid described the Minotaur myth in his narrative poem Metamorphoses. In 1876, French poet Stéphane Mallarmé published L'après-midi d'un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun). The poem described the sensual experiences of a faun with several nymphs in a dreamlike monologue. A landmark in the history of symbolism, Mallarmé’s piece became one of the greatest poems in French literature. It’s the inspiration for major endeavors of modernism, including Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune and the ballet L'après-midi d'un faune by Vaslav Nijinsky.
     Around 1885, artist Auguste Rodin created a sculpture in response to the legend of the Minotaur. Rodin was an avid reader of Ovid's Metamorphoses. The artist may have also been influenced by Mallarmé’s poem since he had given the poet a plaster cast of Minotaur in 1893. Rodin’s sculpture portrays a sacrificial maiden held by the Minotaur. The Minotaur sits on a rock with the maiden in his lap, and there is no apparent sense of violence. The figure of the maiden does not seem to attempt to withdraw from her captor, nor does she entirely submit to him. Rodin constructed the maiden figure in sensual details while his male beast was formed with highly developed musculature. Through his positioning of the figures, Rodin expressed interwoven forces of erotica, sensuality and control.
    Artist Daria Martin (b. 1973) belongs to a generation whose sensibilities developed beyond postmodernism. Both crossing genres and integrating sculpture, dance and music are treated within her films with emancipated elegance. “In my work, I want to bring dreams into the physical world, to embody projection,” Martin said in “Daria Martin in Conversation with Yilmaz Dziewior and Beatrix Ruf.” “These dreams may be esoteric at times, but explicit flaws like shadows on the backdrop allow viewers both an entry point into and an escape route from that obscurity.”
      In 2006, during her solo show in Hamburg, Germany, Martin met Dominic Molon, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Molon observed Martin’s unique film technique and her focus on materials, surfaces and the performing body in relation to sculptural objects. The MCA’s participation in the 3M Consortium Project along with the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, led to Molon’s proposal to commission a work by Martin. And in 2008, Martin completed her 16mm film, curated by Molon, entitled Minotaur.
     In Minotaur, Martin pays tribute to the work of postwar dancer
Anna Halprin, a key pioneer of postmodern dance and movement. The 10-minute film is centered on a Halprin-choreographed dance inspired by Rodin’s sculpture. Martin shows Halprin in her 80s, viewing a book of Rodin’s sculpture, and as the film progresses, the bronze figures comes to life in the form of two dancers. In an interview for Chicago Life, curator Molon also noted the film’s outstanding musical score by experimental electronic music duo Matmos. Minotaur is currently exhibited at the MCA through February 7, 2010.

Published: October 11, 2009
Issue: November 2009 Sports Issue