Titillating and nausea-producing? Certainly. Transgressive? Maybe. Forrest Muelrath reviews Paul McCarthy: WS at the Park Avenue Armory.
Several warning signs about the graphic nature of the work were hung around the entranceway of the gymnasium-sized exhibition. As I walked toward the room, the first thing I noticed was the soundtrack of the film—a constant dull roar of extreme drunkenness. The feature film is played out across eight large screens hanging from the balcony, four screens on opposing sides of the room. Upon entering I saw about a half dozen people looking up over the entrance at large screens, their faces contorted, some with wry smiles, most overtly scowling. Onscreen three Snow Whites, seven Dwarfs, and Walt Paul (McCarthy’s own portrayal of Walt Disney) were in the middle of something like the most debauched night of the year in an art-school dorm. The set was packed with the ingredients for the makings of an orgy in middle America: tables stacked with booze and cake, half empty bottles of Hershey’s chocolate syrup lying on the floor, flour spread all over everything (which at one point is patted on Snow White’s genitals), ‘Happy Birthday’ banners dangling over the mantel. The character’s speech is incomprehensible. It’s hard to tell if they are drunk or handicapped; even in sober moments they are still barely able to form sentences.
The international debut of Russian performance art group, Voina, came with the news that two members are facing jail time for their revolutionary art actions. Forrest Muelrath corresponds with the group through email and prison walls.
Michael Robinson provides insight into the methodology and philosophy behind his collaged films.
In the early days of public television, programs such as The Medium Is the Medium were produced specifically for experimental video by artists like Nam June Paik to present their work; in today’s world of digital ubiquity it’s as if this early video art has been diluted and disseminated to the myriad of screens we interact with daily, creating a wash of video art noise that hums as consistently as power lines. Many artists who work with video, such as Ryan Trecartin or Actually Huizenga, successfully shout through the wall of simulated video reality with high-volume weirdness. Even more video artists are confined to the art world in gallery-only viewings. Michael Robinson’s work is striking because it communicates without transgressing modern media’s spectacle while, against all odds, accessing the humanity among the digital noise.
Robinson’s new film Circle in the Sand, which premiered at the New York Film Festival, is a 47-minute fantasy of the aftermath of a future American civil war. I asked him a few questions over email about that film and his previous work in hopes that I might gain some insight into his process and general philosophy. Michael’s responses offer a view into how these films work: how they manage to lull the viewer into a hypnotic state with media that has dreamlike familiarity and then hammer in some cruel reality about the state of the world.
Forrest Muelrath One of the first things that struck me as I started to appreciate your films, was how easy they are to watch, and how affecting they are emotionally, despite feeling dissociated from any characters and struggling to locate a traditional narrative. I think it was during Victory Over the Sun, as I began to realize I was listening to an instrumental version of “November Rain,” that I first had this thought. Is this accessibility something that is intentional or preconceived?
Michael Robinson Absolutely. I’m not opposed to inaccessibility, but I think beginning from a point of familiarity or comfort makes it more purposeful to then to twist things and go elsewhere. The emotional arc of my films is really central, and it’s hard to activate that without some level of seduction. And as much as we long for things we can’t have, we are also drawn to what we know.