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November 10 2008 2 10 /11 /November /2008 16:17

The INSEE recently published a study with figures that suggest French people are much happier after they turn 60. At the same time, the SNCF (French railroad) workers, as per unusual, go on strike once again, to protest a motion delaying the age of retirement. This could plummet the figures of happiness of our little old men. So, for once, and in order to block surrounding gloominess, we’ve decided to introduce an upbeat senior who’s chosen to keep working surrounded by joy and happiness. Our program does not include basket weaving or cross-stitching, but focuses, rather, on a form of antique theatre: tragedy. Let us study together the “tragedy of life” (Hegel) because, definitely, “life does not give presents” (Tragedie)….

“The dust rose from Hector as he was being dragged along, his dark hair flew all abroad, and his head once so comely was laid low on earth, for Jove had now delivered him into the hands of his foes to do him outrage in his own land”. (*)
That’s the way you feel as you exit a Paul McCarthy exhibition: dragged, jolted, and mistreated, like Hector’s body behind Achilles’ chariot. McCarthy keeps himself busy fooling his audience, swept away like his own blood and thunder puppets in his movies, in a whirlwind B movie tragedy. 
Hey, you cannot deal with madness and yet remain unpunished, you cannot offend a corpse without putting yourself at risk. Struck by Hubris, McCarthy risks nemesis, divina and politica. Obviously, there is outrageousness in his work: material, in the Frigate, a 5-meter high pirate hull, or psychological, like in his Pirate Party series, a great and evil profusion of widescreens. The latter offers demonstrations and sounds that become muddled in an outburst, which reminds Fresh Acconci’s entangled bodies. One becomes aware of subtle differences between Kant and Schiller’s visions of the sublime.  

The greatest strength in McCarthy’s work can be seen in an other version of his outrageousness, the multiplication of used medias and their interaction inside the creative process. For instance, the Pirates series allow McCarthy to explore new territories such as intimate videos hidden on an abandoned boat (Houseboat), or giant and orgiastic showing format (Caribbean Pirates); the sculpture, fully constructed, or in its model state; the deserted leftovers of performances, empty theatres, or photograph remainders; vestiges of fluids (ketchup and so on) or exhibited ritual objects (masks notably, knives).
An other example of McCarthy’s mastering of supposed chaos, his ordained disorder, is the display and the art fetishism. In his sculptural portion, we find his icons that made his reputation: Santa, Tomato Head or Bear & Rabbit. McCarthy tries to avoid glorification and recognition by staging them. Or, more precisely, by not staging them. He exhibits them in or above their own truck boxes, often dismembered, separated, incomplete, mutilated, sculptures are only ersatz of themselves. McCarthy successfully creates simulacrums of his pieces. He gives us a chance to see behind the scene and reaffirms the reification of his art. Nonetheless, he perniciously introduces an ambiguous feeling in front of his artworks. The relation to the pieces changes, alters itself and, by reducing the detachment to the works, creates an intimacy that gives birth to a higher devotion. McCarthy accesses to elevation through denial. He digs furrows of his glory -from underneath.  

Abu Graïb’s prisoners, Bin Laden hunting Bush hounding Bin Laden or Bush self-stimulating (the Bush Pieces): Is McCarthy becoming serious? No, of course not. McCarthy is ketchup, not blood. Is he a child, a dreamer, a polymorphous pervert, certainly, a boy whom best friend is a rabbit with a 12-meter long latex penis (Spaghetti Man), who is a close relative of Michael Jackson (Michael Jackson White & Black)? Here we go: depravity gets close again. Because McCarthy twirls around. We cannot grab his art, as Genet seen by Sartre. Genet precisely is obviously a reference, the beauty into the horror, the wish to self-deteriorate, to dress up in light. A constant round-trip between Dionysus and Apollo, a form of art, finally, that can give birth to tragedy. 
A tragic, tragicomic author, McCarthy’s work is a huge playground, a modern fairy tale that is supposed to help us switch from “immaturity to maturity” (Bettelheim). McCarthy, in a last reversal, embodies the role of the Greek god and bends down to punish us for our sins, our deviances, our buried, Hollywood, monsters. But McCarthy is magnanimous, tender like Achilles accepting Priam’s claim. He releases his prey and leaves us, lying down, defeated, wrongfully dead (as his self-portrait, Dreaming, asleep in silicon), free at last to go back and pay our retirement’s contribution…

(*) : Iliad, book 22, Homer. The fussiest amongst you (proof of said fussiness is that you are actually reading an asterisk referent) have perfectly well noticed that Homer’s work is not, precisely, a tragedy. Yet, the epic is full of heroically tragic content, like the aforementioned one. Thank you for your comprehension… you bunch of g(r)eeks!


[Photos : above : McCarthy, Caribbean Pirates, 2001-2005, in collaboration with Damon McCarthy. Performance. Photograph, Pirate Party, 2005. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zurich-London.. Below : Paul McCarthy, Ketchup Sandwich, 1970-undated. Collection of the artist. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zurich-LondonPaul]]

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