Welcome back to BOMB in the Building, where each week weâ€™ll be featuring a vintage BOMB interview relating to a Season 5 artist. This week we present Paul McCarthyâ€™s interview from BOMB Issue 84, Spring 2002, in which he discussed his career as a performer, filmmaker, and family man with his longtime friend and writer Benjamin Weisman. â€œPaulâ€™s particular Grand Guignol came out of a true personal crisis that dealt with the ghoulish properties of culture, consciousness and family,â€ Weisman wrote in BOMB. â€œPaul has managed to remain a radical artist of true perversion, dedicated to fucking with viewer sensibility while at the same time achieving broad mainstream appeal. A rare accomplishment.â€ Read the full interviewÂ here.
Benjamin Weissman: The pulsing id. Thatâ€™s what I think about when I think about your videos. Partly achieved through minimal dialogue. A generalized wound is articulated, or dug up: anxiety, sexual tension, humiliation, bodily fluids, consciousness. You get a lot of mileage out of wards via a spare, fragmented mumblelogue thatâ€™s more like chanting than dialogue, drilling wards into the ground rather than at other characters, and thereâ€™s something repetitious about this method, within a single work, then from piece to piece, year to year. Can Paulâ€™s Anxiety Channel accommodate a fuller script, or would that throw your characters into the acting deep end and deflate the luscious fucked-up universe you invent?
Paul McCarthy: In high school I did a drawing of a manâ€™s face looking out of the picture plane straight at the viewer. Behind him in the landscape I drew a square hole in the ground. I have always been interested in digging. I remember finding a rock in a vacant lot when I was five years old. I tried to break the rock. I pounded it with another rock. At one point I stopped pounding it and picked up the rock to carry it home. After a short distance, a head appeared from the rock. I think I was dressed in white. All the houses around me were white. It was a very bright day.
Iâ€™ve talked to myself in performances since the â€˜60s. But this auto audio babble got louder in the â€˜70s. At times I would talk from the moment it started until the moment it ended. A muttering faceted language serving a number of purposes, directed at me and for myself. Itâ€™s a multitude, a kind of runabout. A mother, father, brother, sister this and that. In Santa Chocolate Shop there were five performers including myself. In Saloon there were five performers. There was a script, but during the performance the scripts are improvised, repeated, and become language appropriation trying to be mediated into the other.
BW: When you say language serving a number of purposesâ€”what purposes?
PM: A purpose, B purpose, C purpose and so on.
BW: Back in the day a ton of interesting artists were doing performances. Now that energy seems to be directed toward video and film. Artists acting up for the camera. Where has performance gone? Why arenâ€™t people working with the live, high-risk moment? Why do the majority of artists insist on being mediated? Why the distance and safety, why behave on a big installation screen, or a monitor on the floor or a pedestal? I know itâ€™s hard on a performer (physically draining) but that used to be the appeal, the rush, which is why all actors want to perform in plays, the venue of the real. Itâ€™s odd to see a whole form almost disappear. There used to be performance magazines and regular venues at museums and galleries for performance. Not too long ago theater and performance were blurring; it was a fertile time.
PM: When I perform for the camera there are others standing on the sidelines in the void. Itâ€™s very Hollywood to stand and watch a movie being made. I am planning a performance in a theater in Berlin this year at Christmastime. I donâ€™t know yet whether it will be on the stage or not. I think I would like to use the entire theater as a performance room, the theater as a set. Maybe I will extend the stage out into the audience, reduce the seating. I am interested in blurring our positions. Iâ€™ve always been interested in the audience being a prop.
BW: Do you find it strange that people have such strong reactions to fecal matter, blood and mucus? The slightest thing that pops out of us is a total horror. Arenâ€™t these standard human materials? Why the shock of whatâ€™s inside us?
PM: Maybe it is a conditioned response: weâ€™re taught to be disgusted by our fluids. Maybe itâ€™s related to a fear of death. Body fluids are base material. Disneyland is so clean; hygiene is the religion of fascism. The body sack, the sack you donâ€™t enter, itâ€™s taboo to enter the sack. Fear of sex and the loss of control; visceral goo, waddle, waddle.
BW: How cool that youâ€™re a grandfather now. How does that affect your understanding of the world?
PM: I spend more time on or near the floor. I seem to be happy down there.
BW: Walt Disney the man, the freak with the harsh, right-wing politics, and Walt Disney the creator of all those remarkable characters and the cheerfully perverse world of Disneyland. Share your Disney thoughts?
PM: Disney has something to do with the future. Itâ€™s a virtual space, not unlike the Acropolis. The Disney characters, the environment, the aesthetic are so refined, the relationships so perfect. Itâ€™s the invention of a world. A Shangri-La that is directly connected to a political agenda, a type of prison that you are seduced into visiting.
Read the full interview in BOMB Magazine here.