Paul Yore: the uncompromising Australian artist riotously tackling queer culture, corporate greed and hyperconsumption

Paul Yore: WORD MADE FLESH, installation view, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Photograph: Andrew Curtis
Paul Yore: WORD MADE FLESH, installation view, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Photograph: Andrew Curtis

Artist Paul Yore works with found and discarded materials, including other people’s abandoned craft projects. Embroidery threads, braid, cross stitch samplers and quilt pieces – once objects of promise and anticipation – sit forgotten in sewing boxes and bottom drawers, until they are consigned to the op shop or the tip.

Rescuing the residues of other people’s unrealised projects provides Yore with material possibilities and imagined histories. He works these discards together with found texts and images to produce riotous textile works expressing the flux and contestations of contemporary life.

Queer culture, corporate greed, hyperconsumption, Christianity and the police state are tackled without compromise.

In WORD MADE FLESH, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art presents tapestries, appliques, collages and soft sculptures produced over 15 years. This comprehensive survey of Yore’s work is completed by a new commission: an architecturally-scaled pleasure palace constructed from the remnants of societal collapse.

Also on show is Yore’s intellectual courage and energy, solidly underpinned by anthropological, philosophical and art history knowledge he uses to push against societal and Christian taboos. This pushing against taboos extracted a high personal toll in 2013, when child pornography charges were brought against him for one of his exhibitions. (These charges were later dismissed.)

The curation and design shared between the artist, his partner Devon Ackerman and the gallery’s artistic director Max Delaney maximises the immersive experience of the final work. There is only one way into the exhibition and visitors must traverse four different zones, titled “signs”, “embodiment”, “manifesto” and “horizon”, before they enter WORD MADE FLESH.

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Transgressive signs

The first space introduces Yore’s practice through small textile works incorporating found texts and aphorisms about politics, gender and sexuality.

The polite media of cross stitching, tapestry and applique – usually associated with patient crafting on laps, hands kept busy to hold the devil at bay – are transformed into a transgressive methodology in form and content.

The constraints of the repetitive “x” in cross-stitching or restrictions of the tapestry grid that regulate the spacing and length of the stitches are subverted by Yore.

He achieves a visual tension through finely calibrated formal and technical skills.

“Never be queer enough” and “excuse me for feeling” are inserted into traditional bordered formats. The tranquillity of the imaginary drawing room is upended by images of syringes, skulls and pink triangles.

Embodiment, manifesto and horizon

The next three spaces chart Yore’s creative development. Rectangular forms are enlarged to become quilts, religious iconography is explored and reimagined and queer lives expressed.

The rich aesthetic of Rococo and Baroque clothing and drapery intersects with the elaborate excesses of drag queen wardrobes. Rectangles are swapped for triangles, reclaiming the symbolism of the pink triangle.

In one of his biggest works, the Darkest Secret of my Heart, the legacies of Australia’s colonial history are obscured by cartoon characters and other pop culture graphics.

Soft sculptures of sexualised hybrid human/cartoon bodies inhabit the gallery at a scale simultaneously confronting and intriguing.

Tucked away in the last room is a temple of irreverence and critique that amplifies the pagan aesthetic of a colonising Catholicism in Africa and Latin America.

Populated by beaded collages of “mature content”, the curtained space melds the atmospherics of a confessional booth and a gay sex bar.

Societal collapse is nigh.

Entering from the low lights and institutional critiques in the previous galleries, the new space of WORD MADE FLESH shouts societal collapse from a prefab tower covered with messages.

Scavenged corporate branding jostles with handwritten placards and is camped up with the sparkle of thermal blankets and cute neons.

The inner walls of the tower are lined with banks of screens endlessly looping hyper-illuminated montages of found images and GIFs. SpongeBob SquarePants is a reminder of simpler times.

Anthropomorphic sentinels appear to guard the installation, channelling junkyard Madonnas and marketing deities made from sales detritus.

A geodesic dome lined with handmade crochet blankets and neon symbols offers an unexpected respite. Inside, an elaborate font-like water feature confected from kitsch and plastic penises decorated with shells doubles as a kinetic musical instrument. Straw bales provide seating to contemplate the moving parts and whimsical cacophony.

In the first four galleries, Yore’s textile works built a critique of contemporary times meticulously supported by art historical, philosophical and cultural references. In WORD MADE FLESH he tears it all down and rebuilds a makeshift world made from 21st century junk – except for a hearse covered in Byzantine-style mosaic.

In a shift back to permanence and precision, this funeral wagon has been immobilised by a lavish coat of glass tiles embellished with images of phalluses and flowers and parting words like “see you in hell”. A keyboard embedded in the side of the vehicle drones out a discordant final chord.

By choosing a material (tiles) and echoing a tradition dating back more than 1,500 years, is Yore hinting at a return to the brutality of the Dark Ages? Having constructed “a queer alternative reality, erected from the wasteland of the Anthropocene”, could he be offering a final ride in a pimped-up hearse?

Paul Yore: WORD MADE FLESH is at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, until November 20.

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This article is republished from The Conversation is the world's leading publisher of research-based news and analysis. A unique collaboration between academics and journalists. It was written by: Julie Shiels, RMIT University.

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Julie Shiels does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.