Paul Yore

Paul Yore’s SEEING IS BELIEVING BUT FEELING IS THE TRUTH opens for Melbourne’s RISING festival over the first twelve nights of June. The immersive installation work is a resplendent nexus of late-capitalist spectacle and trashy divinity – or, perhaps, divine trash.

In typical fashion for Yore, the title of this new work makes a whole web of references at once. Prophetic, or even polemical in tone, it’s also deeply mundane: it’s found text. The artist recounts coming across the phrase, attributed the seventeenth-century English clergyman Thomas Fuller, and being surprised that our familiar quip, “seeing is believing,” was followed originally by another, rather contradictory, offering. Fuller was writing at a time when the church’s authority over official truth was waning, in the wake of scientific advancements into the popular consciousness. What we know – and, perhaps more importantly, how we know – were key concerns. The line is almost, now, a straight sequence of what have become buzzwords in contemporary cultural life; the first I want to talk about with Yore is “feeling.” 

Two lapsed Catholics discussing feeling was bound to lead to talk of the body itself – particularly what Yore refers to as “the blurring of the line between the tortured body and the ecstatic body.” Though Yore also creates gallery-scale works, often textile-based and displayed on walls, this new piece will extend his exploration of immersive space; audiences will be able to walk in and around it, finding themselves in a hyper-sensory bodily entanglement with the matter of the work. Yore notes that embodied and affective ways of knowing are not just the pet epistemologies of some organised religions, but are also big parts of queer culture. “Particularly as a queer person,” Yore says, “I’m interested in the ways in which things delineated by visual culture don’t necessarily correspond to embodied experience. Pleasure, feeling, and tactility can also be ways that we produce knowledge or understanding. My work always deals with sensation in a very broad sense.” The other natural kinship that Yore explores between Catholicism and queer cultures is also related to “sense,” in another sense. Sensation – that which is amped-up, over-emotive (kitsch) and hyper-stylised – is the very texture of his work. 

It’s well-documented that Yore uses found objects in his installations. Often, these objects come from op shops, though in his earlier career Yore made even more economical use of materials found on the street or otherwise sourced for free. Yore understands the histories of these objects as woven into their materiality, from their surfaces right down to their chemical composition. Crocheted blankets feature heavily in SEEING IS BELIEVING BUT FEELING IS THE TRUTH, some of which are still laden with the dog or cat hair they’ve acquired in their last homes. He’s also conscious of the embroilment of these objects with histories of extraction – especially in the case of plastics, made from oil – and of the labour that produces them in their early lives as commodities, before they become owned domestic objects, and finally make their way to him as post-consumer material. 

There is a degree of randomness, or at least of intuition, with which Yore selects his objects. He explains this methodology as partly indebted to an early interest in surrealism and dada, with their exploration of the automaton and automatic methods of making. These tactics allowed surrealists and dadaists – as they allow Yore – to work outside of their culture’s predominating forms of “logic.” As Yore articulates it, these were “inherently disruptive methodologies of cutting things up and rearranging them . . . that created a counter-factual or fictive reality. But against the backdrop of crushing neoliberal ruination, this [alternative reality] can then become even more truthful — dada saw war and fascism and offered up a deliberately absurdist reality which, for those artists, made sense. I’m interested in creating a new vision of reality from the ruins of post-industrial capitalism.”

For all its historicity, there are tauntingly easy connections to be made between this work and the particular pitfalls of our present cultural moment, gestured to by Yore in his nod to “post-industrial capitalism.” The post-truth, post-Trump period is characterised, says the artist, by “alt-right lunacy, and . . . increasing suspicion around Western scientific traditions, which on some level is valid. But then,” he says, “there is a question: Where do we anchor our ethics if we don’t agree on basic things like climatological events?” The work is also brought right up to the present formally. Unlike most of Yore’s gallery-scale works, SEEING IS BELIEVING BUT FEELING IS THE TRUTH uses some more highly technologised elements including lights and LED text banners. One such banner, running a string of Britney Spears lyrics, is a particular favourite for the artist. On another level, the use of electrical elements was a choice of necessity; the work will be staged outside, and open in the evenings and nights, and had to be constructed to withstand and to entrance in this environment. 

All this materiality, embodiment, heft, and spectacle can be seductive, but it can also be bleak; piles on piles of stuff, even if bright and (somewhat sarcastically) glamorous, can come to feel like waste on the shores of an oncoming cultural collapse. By there is another kind of collapse waiting beneath the stuff of this work: a release from the weight of heavy materiality itself, as a kind of catharsis – not unlike, perhaps, what we reach for when we reach for the divine. For Yore, this seems bound up with the point of art, or of being an artist, today. “I would say I am philosophically pessimistic about our culture,” he says, “but I couldn’t be an artist if I didn’t believe that there was some sort of pressure valve in the work that allows for a cathartic engagement with the trash of our culture.” Totally ironic and totally sincere, Yore’s work offers transcendence through trash; perhaps the only way it would be palatable to us today.

1 – 12 June 2022
Golden Square, Melbourne 

Yore is represented by Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide, and STATION, Sydney and Melbourne
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