Ararat, Australia

Paul Yore, (Soft) Hard Brexit, 2018, mixed media, 73 1⁄4 × 15 3⁄8 × 19 1⁄4".

Paul Yore, (Soft) Hard Brexit, 2018, mixed media, 73 1⁄4 × 15 3⁄8 × 19 1⁄4".

Paul Yore

Ararat Gallery TAMA (Textile Art Museum Australia)

Paul Yore’s work is unmistakably queer. Generally speaking, his textiles, soft sculptures, and installations feature the colors of the rainbow flag; his technique of carefully sewing small scraps of fabric together recalls the aids Memorial Quilt. More conspicuously, penises and dildos abound in his work, alongside cartoonish depictions of gay sex. Yet even while it zealously, even overzealously, embodies the queer aesthetics of camp, Yore’s artwork resists articulating a queer identity as such. Instead, in its hyperactive cocktail of negativity, sarcasm, and pleasure, it figures “queer” as a mechanism for troubling stable categories.

Like one of his most important antecedents, the Chilean Australian painter Juan Davila, Yore has always sported a healthy disdain for Australian nationalism—now a byword for racism, sexism, and homophobia. (A jumble of letters reading TEAM AUSTRALIA ANZAC RAPE sits beneath the Southern Cross national emblem in What a Horrid Fucking Mess, 2016.) Among the visual cornucopia, one theme that resonates throughout the six artworks presented in Yore’s exhibition “Let the World Burn” is the matrilineal relationship of Britain to Australia. To this end, in It’s All Your Fault Mum, 2016, we see a defaced portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (her face excised from the Australian five-dollar note) hung on a cross under a dog tag inscribed MUMMY. The text LETS PARTY LIKE ITS 1789 (the year of the French revolution, but also the first anniversary of the British colonization of Australia) is collaged, Jamie Reid style, in What a Horrid Fucking Mess. Yore references British nationalism in the freestanding soft sculpture (Soft) Hard Brexit, 2018, a bulbous, bicephalic, three-legged figure clad in patchwork fabric with a Union Jack leg and deconstructed world-globe bodice. Almost bursting at its seams, the work recalls the full-body, shape-shifting costumes of the Australian-born queer icon Leigh Bowery. In combining these references through his elaborate quilting technique, with added embroidered mottoes such as BOURGEOIS ENVIRONMENTALISM AND FAMILY VALUES, Yore seems to be trying, desperately, to pinpoint an origin for said “horrid fucking mess.”

The everything-all-at-once quality of Yore’s work is, perhaps, at its best when it takes the form of an immersive installation with mechanized rotating parts, water fountains, pop soundtracks, and flashing lights, as it did for the Dark Mofo festival in Tasmania in June 2019. But the exhibition’s setting in a textile museum affords a valuable context in which to parse the artist’s commitment to the textile tradition: the intimacy of the hand touch, the slowness of the labor, and the capacity for fabrics to be folded or scrunched up and easily transported. Yore even takes advantage of their portability to make work from bed. He has repeatedly stated that, for him, textile making is a form of therapy—of survival, even.

Within the context of bedroom art, and of the time and care invested in certain textile practices, Yore’s recognizably queer precursors drift into the background, letting others—among them Mike Kelley and his More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and The Wages of Sin, 1987—come to the fore. Like Kelley, Yore is interested in the figure of the child in the adult imagination, Justin Bieber being the vehicle through which the artist typically explores this theme. SORRY, 2017, features a young Bieber’s face appliquéd onto the body of a crucified Jesus Christ, while a machine-knit fragment depicting Homer Simpson strangling his son, Bart, is stitched to the base of It’s All Your Fault Mum. Coupled with the various unbecoming portraits of the maternal figure of Queen Elizabeth II, such works invert the trope of the innocent child to be protected at all costs—a notion so frequently mobilized against the rights of gay men—to instead produce a kaleidoscopic image of the monstrous parent.