Recent Acquisitions: Discussing the creative process with Paul Yore and his work ‘The Rule of Lore’
When a new acquisition joins the collection at Bendigo Art Gallery, it must undergo a detailed condition assessment by the Collections and Curatorial team.
It is a two-step system: The Curators initially assessing the work to determine the artistic, cultural and historic significance in relation to the gallery collection prior to proposing it for acquisition. The Collections team then physically inspect the work upon its arrival and assess its construction and materials in detail. Collections will consider material composition, the object’s size and weight and weak or vulnerable points. This information assists Collections to appropriately handle, store and display the work and predict its changing condition over time, and – if needed – clean or repair the work.
Bendigo Art Gallery has recently acquired its first work by Gippsland-based artist, Paul Yore. Working across a multidisciplinary practice involving installations, painting, sculpture, sound, drawing and textiles, Yore creates intricately detailed objects that are often comprised of many different types of media. In the case of recent acquisition, The Rule of Lore, a large triangular shaped textile is covered in applique decoration featuring buttons, sequins, cotton, synthetic fabric, dye sublimation prints, beads, synthetic polymer paint and ribbon.
Senior Registrar for Bendigo Art Gallery, Sarah Brown, recently spoke to Paul Yore about the material process behind conceptualising and creating this magnificent work.
Can you describe the starting process of creating the idea or concept for this work? Do you begin with a loose or structured concept and/or sketch and have clear ideas about the materials you want to incorporate, or is it more of an organic process that develops as you create inspired by objects and materials and adding to them as more of the idea is then formed?
For this piece, I started with a large rectangular blanket that I cut into a triangular shape. The shape is a reference to the 'pink triangle', an emblem used to designate homosexual prisoners during the Nazi regime; the symbol was later reclaimed as a symbol of gay pride and resistance during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
I was also trying to critique the ubiquity of the rectangle as the default form through which we understand pictorial representation. I was trying to imagine an image that would 'fit' into a triangle, and I thought of a tree. Once I had this image, I began elaborating, and my mind turned to the Judeo-Christian image of the tree in the garden of Eden, and the figures of Adam and Eve. In some ways, this is the foundational myth in ‘the West’ for the institution of reproductive heteronormativity, which is assumed (erroneously of course) to be natural and universal. And so the work in some ways then became an exploration of this subject matter, as a queer critique. Generally, my process is quite intuitive. I build up structures, layers and forms slowly from a rough skeleton, gradually increasing the levels of detail, decoration and complexity. Things never turn out the way you think, and I’ve learnt that anomalies, slippages, and decisions made through necessity can be really vital parts of the creative process.
From a practical point of view, what was your process for making this work? Do you lay everything out and look at it from an aerial view, or do make smaller sections then match them up? Or do you just start adding things to a base layer and work forward that way? Is it all hand sewn?
My large-scale textile works are essentially pieced and appliqued quilts. I begin with a base layer, for which I like to use a heavy blanket. I always get these from op shops, because I like the recycled nature of these materials, and how they feel worn and used. I feel these items have hidden histories, which somehow become a part of the piece, and I often I will find traces of dog or cat hair in these blankets.
I will then pin up the blanket directly to the wall of my studio with pushpins, and then I start adding fragments of fabric, which are also found materials: second-hand bedspreads, blankets, clothes, tea-towels, and other fabric remnants. Generally, I will add larger pieces of fabric first, to sketch in a landscape for example, and then refine from there. These fragments are attached using small dress-making pins. Slowly, over weeks, and sometimes even months, the piece accumulates hundreds and hundreds of fragments, as the composition evolves. The whole thing is entirely adaptable at this point, and I will often unpin and re-pin sections, or whole parts of the composition are lifted and pinned into another work I have on the go in the studio. It is kind of like using photoshop, but everything is hand manipulated.
When I am finally happy with the piece, I take the whole thing off the wall. At this point, the piece is filled with dress-making pins, and it is like re-potting a cactus. I lay it out onto three or four tables, and everything is sewn down. It is almost all hand sewing, although occasionally I will machine sew some lace or ribbon as a border, but this must be done at the outset. The fragments are too small to machine sew, and I enjoy hand sewing, which is an integral part of the work, although it takes many weeks, and sometimes months to complete. I make my own thimbles with packing tape, and usually wear 4 or 5 at a time.
Once the sewing is finally complete, the whole piece is embellished with sequins, beads and buttons, which is all hand done and takes another few weeks.
How do you keep track of all your ephemera? Is everything packed by type/theme? Do you keep a spreadsheet or tracking tool of everything you have? Or do you collect specifically for each work at the time of manufacture?
I have been trying to systematise my materials for years, which runs counter to my natural proclivity for amassing piles of random detritus. I am a bit of a hoarder and bower-bird. Sometimes, I know exactly what piece of fabric I want to use, but I cannot find it! Other times, I use what is at hand, or I will pull materials out at random, and attach them to the work quickly, with almost painterly gestures. A big part of my process is making new connections between disparate materials, forms, and images, and so the process is necessarily chaotic on some level, as the element of chance is important. However, I do fantasise about a perfectly ordered studio with a box of fabric labelled 'floral print' and a box labelled 'polka-dot print'...
Is the medium you use (in this case textiles and ephemera) a major consideration for your concept? Is it important this work is a textile-based object rather than say a paper collage? Could you explain why?
In many ways quilting can be understood as a methodological precursor to later Modernist innovations in collage and photomontage. Quilting follows a similar logic, at least in terms of the collating and reusing of a vast array of materials. Historically, quilts served as blankets in times of economic deprivation, and were made from any mismatching fabric that could be found. In this way, quilting retains a strong connection to resourcefulness and material necessity. For me conceptually as a queer artist, this connects to the idea of the quilt as an item of survival, urgency, as well as comfort and safety.
Collage is a dually destructive and creative process, which is inherently disruptive. This explains the historically strong connection to political art (for example Dada or DIY punk art). Collage involves the literal rupture of cutting with scissors or a blade, and the figurative rupture of doing violence to an image’s stability of meaning, detaching and decontextualising it, and so its power of disruption and agitation lies in this violence.
Sewing on the other hand, as Louise Bourgeois has articulated, has an inherently reparative logic: we all know a stitch in time saves nine. It is about repairing and putting things back together, which is also a metaphor for art as therapy. So my process draws on these two energies, and plays with the perceived gendered nature of these approaches. My extensive use of found and waste material and ephemera is based in a central critique of capitalism, imperialism, consumerism and ecological upheaval which has always grounded my practice conceptually.
Are you always looking for things to collect and add to your collection? Have you ever found one small object that has triggered an entire work or body of work?
Yes, I am an avid collector. Even as a child, I collected things: bottle-tops, feathers, crystals, postage stamps, coins, shells, gumnuts, and small figurines. I visit thrift-shops regularly, and seek out fabric remnants wherever I can find them. I once ripped the upholstery off a water-damaged couch on a hard rubbish pile in a well-to-do neighbourhood in Sydney in broad daylight, because the beautiful floral design incorporated dragonflies – I felt it wasn’t ready for land-fill, and some of it ended up in the NGV!
Certainly, one small piece can inspire a direction in a work, but I see the work as more than the sum of its parts. There is a sense that it could incorporate anything, and in this sense, the endless process of the work is a metaphor for the rapacious logic of consumer capitalism, absorbing everything, cannibalizing, metabolising, regurgitating.
Do you work alone or do you have studio assistants?
I mostly work on pieces alone and can be dangerous if disturbed whilst in the state of production! However my partner Devon will help me with the sewing, especially when there are a thousand sequins to put on and it is a week before an exhibition opens…But he is the only one who is allowed to help. It would actually take me more time to explain to someone how to make the piece than it would to just do it myself. I find the intense labour cathartic, it is a huge transference of energy, and a slow meditation. The hand sewing, and the idea of labour imbedded in the piece is integral to the work’s articulation of emotional labour, (as seminal American artist Mike Kelley articulated in his piece ‘More Love Hours Than Can Ever be Repaid’).