'Welcome to Hell' barks one of the small telegraphic citations within the howling storm of shredded and sputtered obscenities, depositions, japes, racist slogans, political tags, and sexual slurs—all clanging with clashing timbres of vilification, celebration, denunciation and solicitation—by which Paul Yore’s Word is Made Flesh. You might be seduced into treating this particular shout-out for Hell as a specially synoptic invitation, as if Virgil were there flourishing a guiding hand to Dante at the brink of the Inferno. Abandon hope all ye who enter here. Have you still got the choice between a red pill or blue pill? Look around. No, actually you don’t. We’re already well inside the infernal vortex by the time we notice this belated announcement, and so we’re less at the threshold of an edifying expedition than we are inescapably among the deranged souls in Hieronymus Bosch’s chaotic garden of demonic delight. If the hellish hospitality of this welcome gesture means anything it’s that we’re damned, and doomed to be force fed the realm’s natural diet of garrulous and pyretic mantras.
+ Welcome to hell Paul Yore, 2014. Buxton International Collection, Melbourne.
From this perspective of Hell, I’ll say I had some difficulty recognising the Paul Yore exhibition that’s portrayed in the catalogue (the portions gratefully provided online) and the exhibition reviews as being the same one I spent several hours with on its crowded last day at Melbourne’s Australian Centre of Contemporary Art. The gushing exegetical enthusiasm, meticulous contextual exposition, or dithyrambic efforts at emulating the exhibition’s maximalist and carnivalesque playground exuberance and explosive anality (that’s to say, as excremental as it is ejaculatory) … all this critical ratification justifiably endorses the artist’s singular signature brand, if by conforming to the contrarian polemics of the artist’s effusively discernible identity politics. But there remains something else to be said for this exhibition, something perhaps more diabolical than discretionary.
Yore’s field of pandemonium is the suitable site for Hell and as with Bosch, the devil in this Hell is in the detail. While we can speak of individual works (with their polite provenance and imprimatur of private or institutional collections), these are deliriously pulped into panoramas of unrelenting and unavoidable verbosity. And it is the words perhaps more than the found imagery that repeatedly draw viewers in close, to read like forensic clues in a mad and maddening puzzle. Phrases that cluster, repeat, swarm and flood the gallery walls. Although, as a point of clarification, in its jabbering intensity this torrent doesn’t actually flow like a stream or rhizome but catastrophically inundates with the boiling bedlam of a tsunami roiling its cultural flotsam as so much wreckage. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Except, at the risk of sounding quibbling, that this centrifugal energy on the walls or the floors seems needlessly to ebb away at the corners of the rooms. Is that not a timid kind of tact to restrain the rainbow punk anarchy of the installation? After all, what collector would agree to their cutely offensive patchwork sampler being folded around a corner? Much of the 2D work is pointedly hung like the chateaux tapestries and baronial castle pendants it boisterously alludes to, from which it accrues a crafty aura of historicist opulence as crests and heraldic emblems, moreso than it might subvert the ceremonial glamour of interior decoration. Despite its licentious lavishness, the exhibition design also seems to be yielding to a ghost of the institutional cube’s architectural etiquette, whether that cube is white or coloured.
+ Paul Yore: WORD MADE FLESH , 2022. Installation view, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Photograph: Andrew Curtis.
(By a stark and admittedly unfair contrast which came to my mind while stepping around the cyclone fence partitioning one of Yore’s rooms, in Reykjavik’s Icelandic Punk Museum—the three current administrators of which tenaciously insist they cannot recollect whose decades old collection of disintegrating Icelandic memorabilia is housed in its venue of a long-disused public, underground, cramped council toilet—each available surface, niche, cleft and edge is encrusted with a guttural palimpsest of plundered posters, clothing, photos and videos like a patina of toxic growth spiralling out from toilet graffiti … except for the toilet seats which carry the ironically taunting hand-written order, almost itself a punk-Duchampian emblem: 'Don’t use, it doesn’t work.' Is it perhaps another order of irony that, as the site of a spectacularly scatological exhibition, ACCA’s toilets are in working order?)
Yore’s exhibition may be curatorially selected from some fifteen years of a career’s impressively patient (and one might almost say, penitent) labour notably in needlework, appliqué, quilting, in multimedia and found object assemblage, yet—even as one parades through rooms that caustically mutate between satirically infected eruptions of Wunderkammer, of outsider palace, of sex club, pachinko parlour and reliquary chapel décor—this oeuvre is delivered in an all-at-once coup with the strident impact of what its curators justifiably and exultantly call a Gesamtkunstwerk: a summative "total work of art”, apotheosis-like, and congregated into an encompassing operatic, architectural theatre which in Yore’s version offers a kaleidoscope of unstable meanings at play and fluid identities at exercise. Once again, look around. Does it not also feel like being swamped by the contesting incensed tribal war cries of a raging football crowd? At the level of detail, each of the arch conflicting catcalls seems banal, precisely because they are rhetorically overplayed as amplified clichés, not as punk nihilism. En masse, however, these details are subsumed by a diverting, and exhilarating, surge of superfluity.
The dildoes stick out far enough and often enough, as I heard more than one gallery visitor joke, 'to take your eye out.' Yet they are hardly offensive, as the gallery’s modest consumer warnings of “adult content” testify, becoming playthings in a comedy of sexuality, a satyr play set in a nightclub pastoral, which tilts the exhibition design toward supermarket scenery advertising a brand of sex toys. Improbably, Yore’s idiom becomes not that of minority but of mass conformity, and not just a style of twisted Popist kitsch and cool but of populist “irony poison”. Hence the exhibition’s five zones named as Signs, Embodiment, Manifesto, Horizon, and Word Made Flesh each assume an enigmatic irony. Signage that points nowhere. Evisceration, or organs without bodies. A manifesto drowned out by its own prolixity. Immersion in horizonless bustling filigrees and sly (if verging on infantile) distortions of popular culture emblems. And, most surprising, that motif of divine incarnation flipped not by any lush blasphemy but by an abstraction: bodily substance sublimated into a carping, consumerist barrage of memes and mottoes and nostalgia housed in a survivalist psychedelic time-capsule. Meatverse translated into metaverse. In the beginning was flesh, and it was made into the code of DNA, geared to genetic engineering.
What today would welcome this incessant, bristling, contradictory graphic and linguistic clamour but the metaverse of social media? Where does pandemonium proffer its appealing liberties and appalling libels in similar cacophony to this exhibition but in the Twittersphere? Word Made Flesh may not be so much the postulation of 'a queer alternate reality', as the exhibition promotion would declare, as it is the anatomy of a heteronomic virtual reality. Keep in mind that such anatomising can tip from the scrupulous, scholarly work of dissection or autopsy into the ferocious pleasure of disembowelment. Call the latter a kind of dark academia. With the prudence of a pathologist, Yore (I’m told) has called himself, modestly as well as with some proud piety, a “cultural worker”. But both the culture and the work conjoined in this exhibition have a gratifying ferocity. They are unarguably manic. Of course, on one hand, this mania can induce a righteous, dutifully prolific labour; the sort of labour of a cultural worker, a forensic labour spurred by surpassing quotas and exceeding the expectations of a performance review. That is, one must say, a miserably economic even slavish mode of mania. But at times mania can otherwise have the efflorescence of the Jabberwock’s dialect—'excited and voluble', in Lewis Carroll’s own words—with its monstrous capacity to dismember or ignite ('jaws that bite, claws that catch', 'eyes of flame'). The cultural worker’s performance review might be hellish, but it is mundane compared with jousting the Jabberwock. Which is an encounter with a manic demon that this exhibition, its artist and its champions would discount at their peril. Beware the Jabberwock!
Hell, Jean-Paul Sartre famously said (through one of his trapped characters in No Exit), is others. If the tirade in Yore’s work distils into something comprehensible like the production of a cultural worker rather than a confrontation with unintelligible monstrosity, it is to say that Hell is not found in otherness but is the self. 'I, myself, am hell', could be its marketing hook. Although this would be no Miltonic Lucifer speaking, grandly alone in punishment for defying servitude. It would be like Charles Foster Kane’s confession as he dies abandoned in the exorbitant discharge of affluence under his pleasure dome of Xanadu. It would be the manic masochism of a self-devouring and self-savouring soliloquy.
Author/s: Edward Colless
Paul Yore: WORD MADE FLESH, 23 Sep–20 Nov 2022, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Edward Colless. 2022. “Hell Of A Thing: Paul Yore, Word Made Flesh.” Art and Australia 58, no.1 https://artandaustralia.com/58_1/p120/word-made-flesh