When I returned home in 1988 after three years in Europe, the first thing I noticed as I got off the plane was a series of garish posters promoting safe sex. Posted along the passenger boarding bridge, with slogans such as “If it’s not on, it’s not on,” the placards were shocking and liberating in their candor. I wasn’t gay yet, but my best friend in Paris had seroconverted and another friend’s brother had died of AIDS. What I felt relieved of was the stillness I experienced while assisting my friend Lizzie with her diagnosis. There was no public education about HIV; It would be almost a decade before France introduced needle exchange. By this time, Lizzie and all but one of her friends were dead.
These posters were probably created by Tasmanian-born David McDiarmid (1952-1995). Along with Melbourne-based Juan Davila, McDiarmid and his former partner and collaborator Peter Tully (1947-1992) are cited as significant influences on Paul Yore, his immersive installation Word made flesh opens at Carriageworks on January 5th.
“As far as I’m concerned, these guys kicked in the door, and in many ways their work is more important now than other things that are being produced,” Yore admits.
Davila is one of several prominent figures who supported the Gippsland-based artist through a traumatic year in 2013, when police raided his exhibition at the Linden Gallery in St Kilda and accused him of obscenity. The charges were dropped a year later, and the police were ordered to pay Yore’s legal fees. However, they did not pay compensation for the images they damaged by cropping out the allegedly offensive content. There was 24.
Word made flesh at Carriageworks is part of the eponymous survey exhibition at the Australian Center for Contemporary Art in Melbourne. It is a triptych of works surrounded by cyclone fences, bursting with cacophonous sound and light.
You hear it before you see it: chimes, chimes and tinkles, and underneath it all, a sustained electronic vibration. If you go into the bay, the attack will be visible.
There is a hearse and shells mosaicked with stained glass. An American flag bears the words NO WAR. The tires are spray-painted gold, the hubcaps also mosaicked, the tiny Ford logo intact. The hood features Yore’s signature crouching figure, knees drawn apart to reveal her enormous phallus, like a male Sheilagh Na-gig, the ancient Irish goddess still found in some churches, spreading her legs to reveal powerful genitalia to reveal.
Behind the hearse rises a geodesic dome and behind it a video tower resembling some kind of dismembered billboard with its profusion of banners, slogans and other lights. The effect is insane.
Yore doesn’t hear me when I first come to interview him. He attaches lights to the ceiling of the dome while a drill echoes nearby. Seeing me, he descends the ladder, words pouring out from the nervous fullness of the artwork itself.
“Oh god, technology. I’m half a Luddit, you know. I hate it but I can’t get away from it, obviously it has its uses, I mean it’s all through this work. I share a phone with Devon and I can’t drive.” He also doesn’t drink and is vegan.
Small, pale, with black-rimmed glasses and short brown hair, Yore comes across as a complex mixture of severity, humor, seriousness, anger, high spirits, fear and determination. He takes me to a meeting with the drill’s bearer, Devon Ackerman, his partner of 15 years. Co-curator of ACCA’s Word made flesh, Ackermann here is “just helping… I’m always in the background. We have worked together in the past but not with this one. I mean, we share everything, so if Paul needs help, why not grab the drill?”
He tells me the story of the hearse. Purchased on Gumtree barely drivable, a permit was obtained from Vic Roads to drive it from Essendon to ACCA. Halfway they were stopped by a police car. Six officers surrounded the hearse. “They eventually let us go, but the police threat to people of color and queers is real.”
Shortly after taking off again, the hearse collapsed and had to be towed away.
The entrances to the dome are flanked by sentinel-like constructions: Ronald McDonald, a rickety stack of tires, small plastic animals, a clown’s face on a large banana, all brightly colored, smeared with paint, studded with buttons and sequins. Dildos sprout from every surface. Sometimes the items are personal, such as a sports trophy won by Yore’s brother.
“I see the work as flat terrain,” says Yore. “You may only find a bottle cap: it’s all the same. These phalluses are made of plaster of paris, using dildo wraps as the molds. The LED lights were made by a company I worked with. I use a lot of found items, from roadside or op shops. Occasionally I buy things.”
“I have a complex relationship with masculinity. Our entire system is dominated by disgusting men.”
Paul Yore, artist
Some of the triangular components of the dome are climate change protest posters, Bunnings logos are visible on the back. Others are crocheted blankets found and made. Most famously refined by Buckminster Fuller, the geodesic dome also evokes ancient architectural forms such as igloos. The allusions multiply.
“They could use it in space stations. At one point it had very utopian connotations and was picked up by hippies who built them out of junk. I also accepted it because of the religious architecture – basilicas. Or Plato’s cave as the founding myth of Western philosophy… Grottos, pleasure domes from the Baroque period. It’s also a contemplative space. The idea is that people could sit in here while the quilt forms a matriarchal womb-like space.”
Yore considers the tower to be the most modular and meticulous work he has ever made. With its industrial shelving and prefabricated glossy floor, it “carries the structure of neoliberal society”.
The videos in it splice gay porn with political figures: Trump, Scott Morrison, a winking Putin and a circling Bin Laden.
“When I was 13 and realized I was gay, 9/11 happened, so it was a very defining moment for me. I think the Howard-era counterterrorism legislation laid the groundwork for much of the current containment of protests. That’s why I often use these historical moments in my work. I also see the Debord cycle, other towers like Babel…the idea of language as phallic.”
The explicit gay content links Yore most obviously to McDiarmid and Davila, along with the Catholic upbringing. Like many gays of his generation, Yore looks back on the ’90s with nostalgia for its gaudy politics. While the death sentence for HIV has receded, issues like climate change and capitalism are more pressing.
During Yores Annus horribilis he ran a workshop with the Australian Tapestry Network which turned a large Davila canvas into a tapestry. Davila was a frequent visitor and became something of a mentor, both as a technique “and as a provocateur”.
Back in the dome, next to the slogan ALL MEN ARE PIGZ, Yore rails against “politics of acceptance”.
“I have noticed a great deal of passivity in my generation. I looked at my classmates at my private boys’ school and I thought, you’re a fucking idiot, what are you to do? I read some full-fledged stuff, like the Una bomber text, Gandhi, the SCUM manifesto… As a man who fucks other men, I have a complex relationship with masculinity. Our entire system is dominated by disgusting men. The church, the state, the corporate sector, the military, colonization.”
When I come back a week later Word made flesh is fully installed. Yore has applied his signature black nail polish and poses for the photographer behind the fence, ring-laden fingers hooked through the wire.
In the dome are hay bales to sit on. Kinetic water sculptures soften the noise. Keyboards are attached to the hearse with a screwed seven chord. What’s a little more dissonance when the level is already off the charts?
I invited friends to visit the factory with me. As Yore and Ackermann blink politely from behind their matching black masks, my friends walk through with incredulous smiles.
We go to the tower where the soundtrack is more rhythmic but so loud you have to shout to be heard. “Oh God,” laughs a friend, “that’s horrible!”
“So much fun!” the other says.
In the flashing lights we start dancing.
https://www.smh.com.au/culture/art-and-design/paul-yore-s-delirious-word-made-flesh-pulls-into-carriageworks-20221222-p5c89w.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture Paul Yore’s insane Word Made Flesh is moving into Carriageworks