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Artist Paul Yore works with found and discarded materials, including other people’s abandoned craft projects. Embroidery threads, braids, cross-stitch samples and quilt pieces – once objects of promise and anticipation – lie forgotten in sewing boxes and downstairs drawers, until they are consigned to the op shop or to the tip.

Salvaging leftovers from other people’s unrealized projects provides Yore with material possibilities and imaginary stories. He works these scraps with found texts and images to produce tumultuous textile works expressing the flows and contestations of contemporary life.

Queer culture, corporate greed, hyperconsumption, Christianity and the police state are tackled without compromise.

In WORD MADE FLESH, the Australian Center for Contemporary Art presents tapestries, appliques, collages and soft sculptures made over the past 15 years. This comprehensive survey of Yore’s work is complemented by a new commission: an architectural-scale pleasure palace built from the remains of societal collapse.

Paul Yore: WORD MADE FLESH, installation view, Australian Center for Contemporary Art, Melbourne.
Photography: Andrew Curtis

Yore’s courage and intellectual energy are also on display, solidly underpinned by anthropological, philosophical, and art-historical knowledge that he uses to challenge societal and Christian taboos. This push against taboos has extracted a high personal balance sheet in 2013, when child pornography charges were brought against him for one of his exhibits. (Those charges were later dismissed.)

The shared curation and design between the artist, his partner Devon Ackerman and the gallery’s artistic director Max Delaney maximizes the immersive experience of the final work. There is only one entrance to the exhibit, and visitors must pass through four different areas, titled “signs,” “embodiment,” “manifest,” and “horizon,” before entering WORD MADE FLESH.

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Transgressive signs

The first space presents Yore’s practice through small textile works incorporating found texts and aphorisms on politics, gender and sexuality.

The polished media of cross-stitch, tapestry and appliqué – usually associated with patient work on the knees, hands busy keeping the devil at bay – is transformed into a transgressive methodology in form and content.

Paul Yore: WORD MADE FLESH, installation view, Australian Center for Contemporary Art, Melbourne.
Photography: Julie Sheils

The constraints of the repeating “x” in cross stitch or the restrictions of the tapestry grid that regulate stitch spacing and length are subverted by Yore.

He achieves visual tension through finely calibrated formal and technical skills.

“Never Be Queer Enough” and “Excuse Me For Feeling” are inserted into traditional edged formats. The tranquility of the imaginary living room is disrupted by images of syringes, skulls and pink triangles.

Incarnation, manifesto and horizon

The following three spaces illustrate the creative development of Yore. Rectangular shapes are enlarged to become quilts, religious iconography is explored and reimagined, and queer lives are expressed.

The aesthetic richness of Rococo and Baroque clothes and draperies intersect with the elaborate excesses of drag queen wardrobes. The rectangles are replaced by triangles, taking up the symbolism of the pink triangle.

In one of his greatest works, The Darkest Secret of my Heart, the legacies of Australia’s colonial history are obscured by cartoon characters and other pop culture graphics.

Paul Yore: WORD MADE FLESH, installation view, Australian Center for Contemporary Art, Melbourne.
Photography: Andrew Curtis

Soft sculptures of human bodies/sexualized hybrid cartoons inhabit the gallery on a scale that is both confronting and intriguing.

Nestled in the final room is a temple of irreverence and criticism that amplifies the pagan aesthetic of colonizing Catholicism in Africa and Latin America.

Populated with beaded collages of “mature content,” the curtained space blends the atmospheres of a confessional booth and a gay bar.

The collapse of society is near.

Stepping in from the lowlights and institutional critiques in previous galleries, WORD MADE FLESH’s new space screams societal collapse from a prefabricated tower covered in messages.

Reclaimed corporate branding jostles with handwritten signs and is camped out with the glow of thermal blankets and cute neon lights.

Paul Yore: WORD MADE FLESH, installation view, Australian Center for Contemporary Art, Melbourne.
Photography: Andrew Curtis

The interior walls of the tower are lined with banks of screens that endlessly loop hyper-illuminated montages of found footage and GIFs. SpongeBob SquarePants is a reminder of simpler times.

Anthropomorphic sentries appear to guard the facility, channeling junkyard Madonnas and marketing deities fashioned from sales detritus.

A geodesic dome lined with handmade crochet blankets and neon symbols provides unexpected respite. Inside, an elaborate font-shaped water feature fashioned from kitsch, plastic penises decorated with seashells doubles as a kinetic musical instrument. Straw bales provide seats to contemplate the moving parts and whimsical cacophony.

In the first four galleries, Yore’s textile works construct a critique of contemporary times meticulously underpinned by historical, philosophical and cultural references to art. In WORD MADE FLESH, he demolishes everything and rebuilds an improvised world from 21st century trash – except for a hearse covered in Byzantine style mosaic.

In a return to permanence and precision, this funeral wagon was immobilized by a lavish layer of glass tiles embellished with images of phallus and flowers and parting words like “see you in hell”. A keyboard embedded in the side of the vehicle emits a discordant final chord.

Paul Yore: WORD MADE FLESH, installation view, Australian Center for Contemporary Art, Melbourne.
Photography: Andrew Curtis

By choosing a material (tiling) and echoing a tradition that is more than 1,500 years old, is Yore hinting at a return to the brutality of the Dark Ages? Having built “an alternative queer reality, erected from the wastelands of the Anthropocene”, could he offer a last ride in a make-up hearse?

Paul Yore: WORD MADE FLESH is at the Australian Center for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, until November 20.

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