Hello Aislers! So lovely to be in your ear buds again. This episode we experience the visual, aural, spiritual and psychological immersion of Paul Yore’s Word Made Flesh – a comprehensive retrospective of his work at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. In intermission we chat summer drinks and our love of dance works, and the practice, now we are all emerging from our Covid cocoons. Our second act is Lele at the exciting Neighbourhood Contemporary Arts Festival. We are taking a break for the summer but will return in February with another morsel for you. Enjoy and stay safe <3.
- Produced and recorded by Carla Donnelly and Philip Thiel
- Theme composition Mark Barrage
- Sound editing by Shackwest
- Cover image of Paul Yore: Word Made Flesh installation view by Andrew Curtis
Philip: Hello and welcome to Across the Aisle your reflective critical guide to theatre and the arts in and around the city of Melbourne. We’re so glad that you are listening. As the sky is clear and the air warms, we’re enjoying a cautious return to seeing things close up and hearing things in the same space as each other. Because today’s sunshine is so unfamiliar, let’s call this a kind of summer episode. Today, we consider a pair of provocative works from creatives at the top of their game, linked perhaps by a level of intensity that reaches for something spiritual and sometimes literally religious. First, a trip to ACCA for the immersive Paul Yore solo show “Word Made Flesh”. Then after intermission, we’ll head to St Albans for the Neighbourhood Festival’s LeLe, a contemporary Samoan Australian adaptation of the ancient Greek Antigone. It’s always fun to choose each other’s monthly entertainment, and I’m really looking forward to unpacking these two really distinct and memorable productions. My name is Philip Thiel and there’s no one I’d rather be taking this deep dive with than my co-host and fellow art lover, Carla Donnelly. Carla. Hello.
Carla: Hello, Phillip. Hello. Listeners, I hope you’ve got your sunscreen on.
Philip: Wonderful to be doing things again.
Carla: In cool, air conditioned theatres.
Philip: That’s right. And what better air conditioning than the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art? It’s time for some extremely queer textual content. Carla, take us to Paul Yore.
Carla: I greatly appreciate you saying what I stands for because I was sitting here the whole time going Australian Contemporary something Art. So thank you very much. “Paul Yore is one of Australia’s most thought provoking and consequential multidisciplinary artists born in Naarm (Melbourne) in 1987. He lives and works on Gunaikurnai Country in Gippsland, Victoria, and completed his studies in painting archaeology and anthropology at Monash University in 2010. Yore’s work engages with the histories of religious art and ritual, queer identity, pop culture and neoliberal capitalism, recasting a vast array of found images, materials and text into sexually and politically loaded tableaux and assemblages which celebrate hybrid and fluid identities, unstable and contradictory meanings, and the glowing horizon of queer world making”. I want queer world making on my tombstone. “Paul Yore Word Made Flesh is structured around five purpose designed spaces, presenting specific bodies of work and discursive contexts. Signs; Embodiment; Manifesto; Horizon; and Word Made Flesh”. Well, we knew this was going to be overwhelming. Because I know that you have and maybe a few Melburnians who listen have experienced a Paul Yore work in the past. Singular. Maybe two. Maybe we would have seen a quilt and a tapestry, like a little mini tapestry. So, to see it all in collected in cacophony was absolutely mind bending and like, I get very sensory overload.
Carla: And so I was a bit like I was super interested to see, like, how I automatically wanted to navigate through it. Because, you know, the first chamber is these very small needle works that he has made with this sort of, you know, Internet slogans, memes, and kind of a toxic positivity kind of slogans and stuff like that in needlework, which are beautiful. And then the next room is all of the tapestry. Well, the quilts. So they’re mixed media. They’re like things out of magazines. They’re found fabrics from, you know, Savers. And then the next room after that is soft sculpture. And I think I can’t really remember what that one is. And then the world, no the Word, the one after that is the real big these it sort of goes from the small scale to the extremely large scale. The final room is these you know, it’s almost like a quilting practice made into structures. So we’ve got like one of those geo domes that each triangular panel is like a quilt piece, but it’s made up with LED lights and neon lights and all that kind of stuff. So I just kind of went with what I, what caught my eye. There was a couple of quilts that I wanted to really deep dive on.
Carla: There would be like things that really catch me that I want to understand what the narrative is, but really the thing that struck me the most and I don’t know whether it’s because like I have a phobia of puppets, but I really loved the soft sculptures. The soft sculptures were like really confronting and twisted and kind of, you know, they take this tool of comfort, which was a dolly for a child or, you know, something that is very textural and plush that you want to instinctively grab. But it is kind of grotesque. And I think that that really sort of sums up his work to me, which is taking these women’s crafts, feminized crafts and using his political – well it’s interesting because you think about quilting and crafting and they were products of the time and products of the society of which they lived in. And this is what he’s done. He has just woven his, the product of his social experience into these elements. And it’s incredibly radical taking these feminized tools. It’s almost like using the tools of the master to de, you know, take down the house. So, I’m kind of waffling because there’s a lot there and there’s so much to sort of pick at. But what really stood out for you Phil?
Philip: Yeah, I agree with you about the complexity of describing this kind of environment, this immersive, clearly curated by the artist set of experiences as we move through the space, starting, as you say, with those clichés, but clichés that have been given a lot of time and attention of the craftsperson. And that’s the first paradox that there’s this kind of idiotic quality to the statements that he has taken the time to wave these little clichés that are almost meaningless, that then transition into this is more provocative. The clichés of Christianity. These statements in Latin, like homo est or indeed Latin versions of the word made flesh statements that are extremely sacred and meaningful to Christians here, presented not as high art, although they are so often associated that with that, because of our sort of colonial inheritance of the Western art tradition here, kind of cheapened and brightened. But given a lavish attention by the artist that really blurs all of those distinctions between high and low masculine and feminine, queer and canonical as well. So I, as a queer Christian, found all of that content extremely compelling to see a literalization of what I have always experienced when looking at near-naked buff Christs with a loincloth. Suddenly the loincloth is not only removed but replaced with a hundred dicks and the bleeding, you know, body of the figure of Christ, just weeping blood in the campest possible mode with absurd angels becoming porn stars and Disney princesses and all of these items of iconography. And I use that word carefully from popular culture and consumerism. So the commentary is just so wonderfully lavish and coherent, despite the chaos that I think.
Philip: Everyone who encounters these is going to be moved in some way. I mean, one of the rooms hilariously had a kind of content warning, you know, go into this shadowy space with caution. And it was like, why didn’t you put that sign at the front of this show? Like, this is all deeply upsetting to anyone with a kind of basic understanding of what is clean and what is dirty, what is righteous, what is grotesque or ghastly. But the uncovering the criticism of the Western art tradition in this incredibly playful way and this patient way of making with tapestries and other objects was just thrilling. And then there’s a xylophone being played by a water fountain in the next room. Like the cacophony is literally used in the final room called Word Made Flesh into this strange, strange installation environment that I think is best experienced. Having worked up to it, as you say, from the small to the medium, going from the two to the three dimensions, and then suddenly being welcomed into this enormous brand new space. So I thought this was a complete triumph. I mean, so memorable, one of those exhibitions that will actually stand out in my memory going forward. So I’m thankful that they put all of this together. As you say, Paul Yore is often very striking, even when surrounded by the work of other artists. But to give him this much space and time was so on point and has left me really excited.
Carla: Yeah. And there’s so much for me to pick up on from what you’ve said because for me, I mean, I don’t really know anything about religion. I was raised by very deeply, you know, vigorous, violently atheist parent in particular. So all of that stuff went over my head. So that’s so super interesting that that that’s the thing that really struck you, obviously, because that’s your interest. And but for me, as mostly feminist as my key point to say all of these, you know, traditionally female craft forms be totally weaponized in this way as I think to pick up on something you said canonically queer this is him like making canonically queer art is absolutely extraordinary. And the thing that I look, I’m going to be shady, but the thing that I also couldn’t stop thinking about is that all of these items are handmade. They’re made totally by the artist himself. He doesn’t have any help. He doesn’t have any studio hands. He, you know, he has learned these techniques and employs them himself. And I can’t help but think it was like the week that that Rone exhibition got announced, you know, and it’s and it’s art that I just find completely inaccessible. Like, I just don’t understand it at all. It just seems to be shouting words into a void, essentially. And that was like a $1.8 million grant from the city of Melbourne, and he had a staff of 120 people and then he’s in The Age going, “Oh, you know, people enjoy the spaces, but they think I just paint the, the faces. But really I placed every object in these rooms” and it’s like babe you had $1.8 million and a staff of 150 people. And so you go from that kind of, I think, literal grotesquery to this very carefully curated homosexual, queer grotesquery and it’s like night and day. And I think to me, like it really, really affirmed like that queer exhibition, what queerness means to me, you know?
Philip: Yeah. And the queering of so much that we just take as given. Going back to these Latin phrases, hoc est corpus meus is across the top of one of the many crucifixion scenes in the show. This is my body. It’s what it means. Which, of course, as I say, is this incredibly sacred statement within Christianity. But there are gay men in Christianity. And as the poet Alex Dimitrov recently said on Instagram, you couldn’t invent Catholicism unless you were gay. I mean, it’s just so completely carved. The whole is.
Carla: Over the top.
Philip: And to unlock it, to just remove the loincloth. As I say, it’s gay to the core. Always has been, always will be. So yeah, I completely exactly, I absolutely agree with your feminist analysis. I was just riffing on all of the wonderfully queer Christian elements. And then we could talk about each item at so much length, but then it gets mashed up with emoji’s and porn and dumb videos from the Internet, especially in that final room. So, the level of chaos just reaches such a joyful climax that there’s almost nothing that you can really say except it’s coming to Sydney. So, if you’re up there in January, go to Carriageworks people.
Carla: I do. I do just want to briefly reflect and it’s something that Mike White, who’s the creator of White Lotus and has been one of the most transgressive homosexuals in the sort of public sphere of all. He’s not a homosexual, he’s bisexual. But he came out this week, there’s like a very shocking seeing this week of like very graphic anal sex. And he’s like “I want to make gay sex transgressive again”. That’s what I want and that’s what I feel about this as well. It’s like so much has been taken from us and it’s like really like it’s such a weaponisation, but it’s so beautiful. I will hold – this has burrowed a little hole into my heart that will never leave. I’m so grateful that this artist has been nurtured and, you know, like cops tried to shut down one of his exhibitions ten years ago of like, you know, accusations of child pornography and all this other bullshit. So, I think quintessentially Australian as well. There’s just so much there that to be to be connected to and I think little deeply secretly proud of as well.
Philip: Yeah, a great how wonderful. So thank you ACCA and thank you, Paul. We love you. Oh, let us have a little summer beverage. It’s time for intermission. And all of that joyful noise of the Paul. Your exhibition has made me a little thirsty. So what is your summer beverage of choice Carla?
Carla: That’s a good question. I’m not really drinking a lot of alcohol these days, so I’ve been exploring, you know, virgin cocktails. So I’m loving a virgin mojito. I love a virgin Bloody Mary. That shit is good. Ooh, what about you?
Philip: Yeah. You’ve got me thinking about limes. I got a cookbook recently, which is just such an odd thing for me to buy, but it’s of Sri Lankan recipes and has a drinks section which has a lime juice recipe with just lime sugar ice. That’s my summer, um, vibe. Just all the citrus, the Japanese citrus, the Thai citrus.
Carla: Oh, yuzu.
Philip: The big orange, the small orange.
Philip: So tell me about your stuff. I mean, what you have been up to and what are you looking forward to as. As summer rolls around?
Carla: Well, of course, the best time of year is to be out here near Torquay in the summer. So I’m just looking forward to going to the beach every day or as many days as I can. And even though the UV out here is like, you feel like you get burnt to a crisp in 10 minutes that’s all right, because I live 15 minutes from the beach and I can go and have a swim and I can just get in the car and go home. So that’s really all I’m going to be doing. I’m just going to the beach. What about you?
Philip: Fabulous. I’m looking forward to the outdoor concerts by the MSO.
Carla: Oh, tell me all about this.
Philip: What’s – say that again?
Carla: Tell me all about that. The MSO.
Philip: Oh, so each year there are free concerts at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl. On Wednesday and.
Carla: Saturday they do a bit of a mash up.
Philip: Jan and Feb. Yeah. I also love Christmas more than I have in the past. I’ve just fully embraced the public spectacle of kitsch and glamour and love and peace that has overtaken Melbourne. And they seem to have gone really camp. There’s a lot of slay with an i g h going on.
Carla: Christmas is very gay.
Philip: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. And I finally realised that that’s okay. I can, I can love it. By the way, I also wanted to talk about some dance shows that I’ve been to recently. Joel Bray Um, Garabari and Arts House I saw last night and I also saw a Body Crysis, Crysis with a Y at the Neighbourhood Contemporary Art Festival, which we also saw another show at that we’re going to talk about soon. I just wanted to say that again. I love dance. I don’t understand it, but I love it. And the gentle interactivity just in terms of space being shared by audience and performer, the sort of ceremonial quality to it is drawing me back to all of this content more and more. So yeah, whenever Chunky Move does a thing or Joel in particular put something on, I think I really need to prioritise this art form, even though it doesn’t really come naturally to me. Like I’m not on the mailing list so I need to get on them.
Carla: Bray in particular is incredibly experienced and I think naturally good at holding these spaces and being incredibly respectful. So it’s it brings stuff out of me that nothing else does. It’s incredible.
Philip: Yeah, absolutely. And last night’s show in particular, Garabari, was amazingly generous because he essentially was welcoming people of all backgrounds into a kind of ritual dance of Aboriginal culture, which is just incredible and obviously could only be done by a really thoughtful, responsive dancer and Aboriginal person like he is. So yeah, that was, that was another memorable event.
Carla: Well, let’s do it, Phil, because like this, so much of the ballet that I want to cover on the show next year, I’m with you, it’s like dance and work, you know, sort of Indigenous led companies are just, yeah, it’s the thing that makes me most excited at the moment.
Philip: Well, on that note, there’s the bell.
Carla: It’s time to go.
Philip: Time to go to St Albans.
Carla: Jump on the western suburbs.
Philip: Okay. It’s time for LeLe at the Bowery Theatre in St Albans, which introduces itself with these lines “So sayeth the King. So it must be done. Beloved brother. Buried, disowned, forgotten son. Two brothers who couldn’t be more different kill each other. In a moment that can never be undone. Setting off a butterfly effect that explodes through a Samoan family in Australia. Is a story of family honour and standing up when no one else will. It is an unapologetic exploration of the immigrant experience in Australia and how our AIGA survive and thrive in between worlds”. So this is a piece brought to life by an ensemble of six Samoan performers. A re-adaptation of Lila Butterfly itself derived ultimately from Antigone, the ancient Greek tragedy. So in 2018, this was done at Western Edge and now is brought to the Neighbourhood Festival, which is an exciting new festival that I managed to catch a little bit of this year. So Sophocles in the Suburbs is the short version of all of that, I guess, and it was fascinating to go up to St Albans and actually get off the train for a theatrical event there. And when the two of us arrived, we were in the foyer being welcomed by Chanella Macri and some of her co-producers in a way that was very warm, very funny, very chatty, and went with the tone of the production itself.
Philip: And I just wanted to start with the ancient Greek tragedy of it all, because for me, not only through the retention of the ancient Greek character names, but through all sorts of other elements, this remained quite true to my understanding of the fifth century tragedies performed at the Dionysus Festival. So early on, there is a funeral because these brothers have killed each other and the language used by these Samoan performers. It was the language of contemporary Islander Christianity. God is good all the time. All the time God is good. And so we’re taken into a kind of familiar version of how Christianity has flourished in all of the problematic ways that it has in this part of the world. And the play goes on to explore first in the ancient Greek context, but then in this contemporary Christian one, the hypocrisy of religion and how the preaching of forgiveness within, for example, Christianity is not always followed by its preachers and practitioners. The other thing that I saw is very connected to the ancient Greek style was a piece of narrative followed by a kind of coral response or musical response, a moment to reflect and really sing and think and feel something about what had just happened on the stage.
Philip: And the way that that was done in this production was so creative and so varied. We had rap, we had slow speech, we had beautiful singing from a number of the characters. And I really appreciated the way that theatre, like in ancient Greece, was not only narrative, but was also a kind of timelessness, an environment in which to really think about these huge topics that the Greek Tragedian fans loved to explore on the page. These tragedies always seem so fast and so dark. It’s almost insane. But it was such a gift to receive a production that seemed to carry forward all of those elements within the adaptation context of today and multicultural Australia. The final thing I’ll say before throwing to you is it’s lovely to see the passion and the intensity of emotions in this script and from these performers, the authenticity of the tears and the sorrow and the capacity to move from the individual to the communal was just incredibly healing to witness. And I had a wonderful afternoon. How did you find LeLe?
Carla: You have. Thank you for that. Phil. That’s so interesting, especially the context around sort of Greek tragedies, because I don’t really know anything about that. So the rap elements sort of felt a bit out of the blue for me the two times that it happened. And it felt like each character had a monologue and everybody had a monologue except for the mother at the end. One that rhymed, I should say. So I didn’t. There was stuff there that I didn’t really understand. So thanks for contextualising that for me. I thought this was really interesting. Like, you know, I was sitting there, because I didn’t read anything about it before we went. I actually thought it was like a Shakespearean thing. And then like within, like the first couple of minutes, I was like, Oh, this is Antigone. And I kept thinking, like, the question as to when these sort of things come up. It’s like, okay, well, why now? Why this text? What is it going to say to me today? What is it going to teach me today? And it wasn’t until right at the end, because, you know, most of the other contexts that I’ve seen this in, it has been like very political. It’s been like political, global, really sort of more drumming, that kind of thing home. Whereas this I was like, wow, you know, is Christianity like the original harnesser of patriarchal violence? You know, that was the thing that really kind of blew me down. And it’s such an interesting vehicle to make the mechanism Christianity or the spread of Christianity throughout the Pacific nations. You know, I’m not sure if it was super critical of that specifically or just pretty cool of patriarchal violence or both, or because I felt like it did have some reverence for religion or for how it has built community. But that was that’s such an interesting and incredible mechanism to deliver this text, and I am deeply in awe of that. So that that answered the question to me Why this text, Why now? Why in this setting and talk about making it so fresh.
Philip: And the language used right at the very end zoomed right out, didn’t it, and made the text again, something about nation language like we forgot we are healing openly, naming particular nations and celebrating and commemorating the resilience of people who have migrated here. As always, there’s such intrinsic value in seeing work from the margins as they are defined here in Melbourne. And there was something good about actually leaving the city to see this. So I’m thankful for this new festival as well and I thought this was really apt programming for this festival that is openly saying We want you to come out here to the West to hear the stories of the West and Chanella Macri and her collaborators are clearly. Telling a story from a place that needs us to actually go there and listen. And as you say, the rap kind of comes out of the blue. But it also sounds like the spaces that I am unfamiliar with. It was another liberalisation of not my people, not my stories, not my music. And that distancing effect that it had, I thought was quite productive in terms of being given an opportunity to have my own emotional reaction to the story, which is so universal, but to acknowledge that something was happening that I was a witness to but not a participant in. And I thought that was managed really creatively and consistently.
Carla: Yeah, this was a real joy for me. I’ve never been to that theatre before. It’s lovely new and it’s really comfortable and the seats are comfortable and the air conditioning was great and the set was fantastic, even though I think the set was became a bit of a burden at some points, there was too many scene changes. I think there’s too much movement and that kind of distracted me from what was going on. But this is so solid and I agree with you. Like I loved going there and seeing this work in place. And it makes me I don’t know, I think it just really shows up a lot of these kind of programs that the big majors try to have with diversity. And, you know, it’s just like this is not in day. You know, this is this is these ethnic groups telling these stories on their terms in the ways that they want to tell them. And it’s like it’s completely mind-blowing.
Carla: And so personal.
Philip: The final section of the note from the creators reads “Being an Australian born Samoan has its flaws, but making the effort to journey back to your roots seems to be the best route going forward. Understanding where you came from to honour the ones before you and then passing on that wisdom to the next generation”. And for me, that’s what was happening. There was a sense that the performance had done some listening and they were now doing some telling, and that by witnessing that, we were also part of something really positive and profound. So it also just sort of restores a sense of wonder about these ancient texts. The survival of these fifth century tragedies is such a miracle, and their power sort of remains strangely unmatched. It’s actually mysterious to me that so much from the ancient world will never be surpassed. There are these moments and cultural experiences that just offer our universal culture something quite particular, and I’d rather see it like this than any other way. As a citizen of Melbourne, like these other people in this city doing the interesting work now, putting in the labour to reanalyse this content and to bring it to us so powerfully. So how great.
Carla: Thanks so much for this, Phil. This was such a gift. I loved it. And I also love any time I don’t have to cross the West Gate. So the western suburbs is where it’s at for me.
Philip: I love having a sort of suburban cricket match happening outside the theatre. Love a matinee. There was a lot in its favour.
Carla: It was amazing. Thank you.
Philip: Yeah. Thank you. Western edge. Okay, on that note, it’s time for Coming Soon. What are you looking forward to? Carla, what’s happening next?
Carla: Well, I want to wait until the fourth wave is over, and then I want to go and see the Alexander McQueen exhibition at NGV.
Philip: Total aim.
Carla: Like it’s you just like eye roll another white designer, whatever. But it is McQueen, you know, like to actually see these items in the flesh will be so much more mind bending than the videos and images that we’ve seen in the past. So also will be a good place to escape to on a hot day. So that’s what I’m looking forward to. What about you?
Philip: Cool. I’m going to see Hamilton with my sister.
Carla: What is it? Coming to Melbourne now?
Philip: No, context. It’s here.
Philip: And there’s a deal if you sit in the back row. So I’m deciding to not knowing any of the songs or the story, really. Having been on the margins of this major global theatrical event. I’m just going to go and see it. Also, the mousetrap by Agatha Christie is.
Carla: Oh, my God. Yeah, that looks good.
Philip: Which thrills me.
Philip: I don’t know. I’m getting basic in my old age, and I’m down for that. I just want to just say a few big things. I’m an MTC subscriber with a teacher friend.
Philip: First time. So I’m crossing very much into the shadowlands of my forties. So all of that will be decoded in the New Year.
Carla: Well, is this the time to talk about comfortable seats? Because I just don’t think my middle age body and my arthritis is up for independent theatre anymore.
Philip: Maybe that’s why Fringe audiences skew young because they can handle the weird bony-ness of it all.
Carla: Yeah. Yeah.
Philip: Knee to knee.
Carla: Well, this is this is I’m so interested to hear what our intermission chats are going to be like next year. How exciting.
Philip: Right? With all of my new identities. Okay. That is that for our eclectic November episode. Thank you so much for listening. If you’ve made it this far, do get in touch. Even for no reason via email at firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter if it still exists @acrossaisle. This is where you can keep up to date on our evolving plans and recommendations and promote your next shows if you like. That said, we will be taking a summer recess to soak up the festive stillness and warmth and consume stupid amounts of culture. Of course, all of this will be discussed when we return in February 2023. Across the Aisles recorded in Naarm and Djilang on the stolen lands of the Bunurong and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin nation. Sovereignty has never been ceded. We pay our respect to elders and express gratitude for their custodianship of the land we live on. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land. Thank you to Ron from Shack West for recording this episode and thank you so much Carla.
Carla: Thanks Phil. Thanks.
Philip: Enjoy the summer. Yes, bye.