Does My Ideology Look Big In This? Paul Yore on LET THEM EAT CAKE
Dotted across Neon Parc’s expansive walls, Paul Yore’s textile compositions resemble cataclysmic planets suspended in a parallel galaxy. They are strangely familiar, frantic, loaded with a comingling of visual and linguistic processes that might be on the precipice of exploding into a blinding chasm of ‘nowness’.
The artist’s current exhibition – LET THEM EAT CAKE –proposes the potency of the politically charged textile medium as a vehicle for challenging patriarchal power structures in Australian society. Comprising hand-sewn appliqued textiles, embellishment, painting, text and sculptural elements, the works throb with a frenzied urgency registered through their tactility. The artist conjures a chorus of voices that have been silenced, identities that have been marginalised, and a collective knowledge that has been abandoned in today’s socio-political climate. Who can look away?
I finally found Yore standing thoughtfully by the gallery’s entrance. The artist was largely unperturbed by the clusters of friends and acquaintances who’d braved a biting Melbourne winter evening to attend the show’s opening. The fervour of Yore’s convictions resounded through my consciousness long after we spoke that evening.
‘White Trash’ by Paul Yore
In what ways does LET THEM EAT CAKE represent an evolution in your practice, both physically and thematically?
The LET THEM EAT CAKE exhibition elaborates many of the ongoing concerns of my practice, particularly the theme of deteriorating ecological and social conditions under so-called Late Capitalism. However, for this show, I was careful to channel these broader concerns into a focused evaluation of the current socio-political moment.
The global pandemic has revealed in many very explicit ways the manner with which the dominant cultural machinery has expressed indifference to human suffering and even massive loss of life. All the while, we see that corporate and political power has strengthened; the world’s wealthiest grew wealthier still during the pandemic, and the political classes have contented themselves with self-interested populism.
The suite of works making up this exhibition grapple with, at times candidly and at times in a cryptic way, the material conditions and the linguistic environment that produces, and is produced by, abusive patriarchal power structures.
The prevailing form of the exhibition is the quilt, and in many ways a quilt can be read as allegorical, standing in for the manner in which a structure or system is pieced together from fragments that are held together in a very tenuous way. I think this image captures something of the instability of the present moment.
‘God is Dead’ by Paul Yore
Do you aim to achieve a balance between distortion and sentimentality in these works?
I don’t really see the possibility for a balance between distortion and sentimentality. I feel sentimentality is itself the distortion. Jung once remarked that ‘sentimentality is a superstructure covering brutality’. I interpret this as a good description for the process by which the dominant cultural paradigm is held in place by appealing to our emotional instincts in a manipulative way.
The most obvious example is the way in which settler colonialism is upheld and reasserted endlessly as a singular and legitimate ‘Australian identity’. Obviously this construction is founded on genocidal violence and ecological destruction, and yet is still held in place today with militarism, police brutality and jingoistic appeals to white nationalism.
Several pieces in the show attempt to problematise the very notion that history or historical events (and by extension identity itself) can be contained within any stable and objective framework. For example, the large quilt ‘The Evacuation of Mallacoota’ takes an event that issued out of the catastrophic Gippsland bushfires of the summer of 2019/20, and presents it almost mockingly as a grandiose historical moment in the manner of the Bayeux tapestry or Picasso’s Guernica. The critique in the work is contained within its very failure to didactically represent the bushfires, and instead the work is pieced together from off-cuts from previous textile works, and other scraps of found material, in some ways describing the wasteland of capitalism that ironically produces the exact conditions for cataclysmic ecological disaster.
Detail of ‘The Evacuation of Mallacoota’ by Paul Yore
How do you conjure and sustain a sense of urgency and ‘nowness’ in your work that resonates with spectators across a range of ages, races, cultural backgrounds and gender groups?
I don’t like to ‘beat around the bush’. I strive for a directness in my work, which is rather paradoxical, given the slow and laborious manner with which I make my work, especially the hand-sewn quilt pieces. But I feel there is a sense of urgency in the tactile nature of the work, and it also has a very strong visual appeal given my use of lurid pop colours.
Further, I think collage is a very immediate almost automatic way of making something: you cut up images, and then they are placed back together, which instantly creates a very dynamic affect. Lastly, I think using found and second-hand materials somehow immediately locates the work in the physical environment familiar to the viewer, and this produces a proximity, an intimacy which I think speaks to a broad audience.
Detail of ‘The Rule of Yore’ by Paul Yore
Can you explain, in detail, the process of creating one of the works in LET THEM EAT CAKE?
The textile works have a quite drawn out methodologically trajectory that I sometimes think of as rather alchemical. I begin with seeking out materials, which are usually found or second-hand clothes, bedding, blankets, tea-towels, fabric remnants, textile samples, and other miscellanies. These found materials form the base elements of the work.
I then sort through these materials and then begin deconstructing them by ripping or cutting. I will then build up the artwork, by pinning together the improvised compositions with dress-making pins. This process can take many months, and the composition may change dramatically several times over that period. Sometimes I will undo whole sections and redesign sections.
Once I am happy with the whole composition, I sew all the pieces together into the quilt, which generally takes months of hand-sewing for each piece. Often parts are embroidered during this stage, which is very laborious process of adding finer and finer detail to the work.
Finally, the piece is embellished with sequins, beads and buttons, which can also take several weeks.
What were the main challenges you encountered in bringing this show to life?
The main challenge in the realisation of this exhibition was navigating COVID restrictions. There was a two-week lockdown that overlapped with the installation period, which prevented me from having a hands-on approach to hanging the work in the space, as I could not travel to Melbourne. I delegated the install of the work to the gallery staff, who did an amazing job under difficult circumstances.
‘Free From Fear’ by Paul Yore
Your work is charged with layers of physical and thematic content, and your approach described has been ‘frenetic’. How do you know when a piece is finally ‘finished’?
My work is in some ways a reaction against the mainstream media landscape: the endless 24 hour news cycle, the sinkhole of social media, and incessant advertising schemes seemingly embedded into every layer of human existence.
I am trying always in my work to push the materiality and content to ever greater extremes almost as a way of competing with or mimicking the excesses of the ‘information age’. These extremities in turn form a kind of literal and figurative threshold, a kind of maximum after which my mental capacity, physical resources or other constraints limit the production of the work any further. So in some regard, the work is finished when the process has been in some sense exhausted.
How do you perceive the role and function of language in your work? How do you aim to challenge conventions about language and communication in this show?
Language is an incredibly important theme and element in my work; on some level I do not see any visual art outside the mediating paradigm of linguistic processes. What I think is critical is the ways in which language can be structured in the context of an artwork to disrupt and complicate its normative functionality.
My work is heavily influenced by both the Dadaist approaches to language which largely took the form of absurdist poetry, and the Beat generation of writers (especially William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg) who would at times literally cut up their writing and sticky-tape it back together. This cut-up technique is the organising principle of collage, which I see as the prevailing methodology in my work.
Collage is inherently radical as it disrupts a singular reading of an image or text. You are taking two or more disparate texts and collapsing them into each other. On some level this challenges the very notion that a text can have a stable or singular reading, by revealing some ‘slippage’ of meaning.
The ultimate goal of art I believe is to formulate new linguistic possibilities, to move beyond the delimiting binary of subject-object opposition, and embrace ever more complex and plural syntactical approaches.
Detail of ‘Commodity Fetishism’
What do you consider to be some of the ‘traditional’ forms of knowledge in society that have been abandoned due to the advent of social media, celebrity culture, and associated disinformation? How does this show seek to draw attention to this idea?
Our current cultural modality seems devoid of ‘knowledge’ altogether. We have only an endless stream of rather meaningless information. I think the most important forms of knowledge that have been marginalised in preference for a sort of distracted, passive infotainment-consumerism are the knowledge systems of the world’s oldest living cultures.
In Australia, we have very easy recourse to an entire epistemological framework that has the potential to save us from total cataclysmic ecological and social collapse. I would add to this a more general ageist disregarding of the wisdom of elders, manifest in the generation of grandparents who grew their own food, mended socks instead of throwing them away, baked bread, made do with what they had.
‘Stupid Is As Stupid Does’ by Paul Yore
In what ways does queerness, as expressed visually and thematically in this show, act as a vehicle for challenging and exploring ideas of ‘culture’ and ‘counter- culture’?
For me queerness refers not simply to an alternative ontological category, as a synonym or sign for ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’, but rather as a disruptive methodological approach to ideas, materials, texts. This manifests in various ways, as a playful or absurdist treatment of everyday objects and things, and attempts to overthrow categories altogether, preferencing ambiguity.
Part of my approach to art making seeks to posit a very unabashed (sometimes pornographic) homoerotic vision, as a way to challenge the polite puritanism of Australian visual culture. I am reclaiming the proclamation ‘LET THEM EAT CAKE’ almost as a camp call to arms against the conservative pink-washing of mainstream gay ‘politics’ which has centred on same-sex marriage, and see the future of queerness as indistinguishable from the struggle against capitalism, colonialism and ecological destruction.
Why does the textile medium resonate with you so powerfully?
Textiles have long been gendered as female, and as a result have historically existed outside of the mainstream or academic sphere of artmaking which has been dominated by white, straight men.
From the 1960’s onwards, when textiles finally did enter into the language of late modernist and contemporary art, they did so as radically feminist and/or queer. Textiles, as handmade objects, are inherently connected to the sense of touch, and this tactility also implies a sensuousness.
Textiles are also connected historically to rebellion and resistance, in the form of hand-sewn suffragette and unionist banners, and other protest ephemera. I think too, that there is a warmth and intimacy embedded in the medium which is connected to the idea of the blanket as an object of comfort or safety. In the Victorian era, quilts were made to memorialise deceased persons, and usually these quilts were constructed using the deceased person’s clothes. This idea was revived in the 80’s and 90’s in the AIDS memorial quilt project in which the families and friends of victims of the AIDS crisis made quilts in their memory.
I think therefore, quilts can embody ideas of the collective, and of shared experience which is a very generative space.
‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ by Paul Yore
Would we ever see Paul Yore venture into fashion or wearable art garments?
As a textile artist, I have often thought about applying my works into wearable pieces, as an extension of my interest into the relation of the body to the work of art. My partner and I once designed crowns and phallic “cod-pieces” as costumes for a queer performance by Phillip Adams for Balletlab. But I would be interested in a fashion cross-over or collaboration and could even imagine this as part of a drag performance.
How would you summarise the essence of LET THEM EAT CAKE in a sentence?
LET THEM EAT CAKE is a polite request to tear down the entire nightmarish, demonic, dehumanising, deliberately cruel, exploitative capitalist industrial society, and build something new from its ruins.
LET THEM EAT CAKE is now showing at Neon Parc, Brunswick, Melbourne until July 17.