Welcome to Hell by hannah baer

Author’s note: all phrases which appear in italics in the text below are quotations of text from Paul Yore’s work

  1. The materials

In capitalist white supremacy, things are supposed to be separate, differentiated, neatly defined, bounded, discrete. Suburban houses reside in named townships with postal codes and numbered mailboxes, inhabited by nuclear families composed of rational liberal subjects whose ordinal classifications include profession, ethnicity, citizenship, sexual orientation, consumer preference, grade-point average, taxable income. The classifications predict people’s behaviours, define their options. Every object is valued in a marketplace. WELCOME TO HELL.

White supremacy figures itself as a shiny storefront, a glimmering mirage, the promise of a city with no crime, no waste, no harm. Capitalist politicians promise that with their plan, their rules, their leadership, we will be delivered from inefficiency, chaos, disorder, suffering. The legacy of these settler-colonial laws and leaders is searing violence. Colonisation often requires imposing hierarchical social structures on indigenous cultures, imposing boundaries and borders onto indigenous land so that it can be bought and sold. The histories of this imposition are unspeakably brutal. Cultures and ecologies ravaged. SORRY IS NOT ENOUGH.

If you have ever walked in the alleyway behind a shopping mall, or gone to a waste-processing facility outside of a wealthy suburb you know that the pleasant order of consumerism is predicated on a chaotic abyss of paper trash, rotting food, sewage. There is no cleanliness without mess, there is no bounded, sterile product without sweat stains, shit, and plastic that will never biodegrade. Any effort to glamorise the material reality of late capitalism (and it must be glamorised in order to sell products) is a lie if it doesn’t also acknowledge trash, faeces, semen, pee, plastic. CULTURE IS NOT YOUR FRIEND.

SENTIMENT-ALITY IS A SUPERSTRUCT-URE COVERING BRUTALITY declares a winking cartoon koala with a bulging purple and grey erection, standing on a skeleton with bulging breasts, swastika nipples, its severed head spurting blood and bearing the face of the queen of Australia, from its crotch a chain stretches around a convict figure, emblazoned with the words BALANDA and GUBBA MAN, both Aboriginal terms to describe white settlers. In capitalism everything is supposed to be a finished product; the processes are hidden from us. Yore brings the process in, the messiness. Wounds drip blood, cocks drip cum, trash becomes treasure.

Often materiality in artwork is metaphorical or conceptual. In Paul Yore’s work, it’s quite literal. The trash in capitalism is supposed to flow in one direction, down and out, from the rich neighbourhoods to the poor neighbourhoods, from the posh neighbourhoods to the devastated ecologies of industrial waste lands. But Yore reverses the flow. The trajectory of capitalist accumulation and waste – from valued products to devalued trash – is inverted. Yore finds used objects and waste products and brings them from the oblivion of waste heaps and thrift shops into the highly ordered and regulated spaces of museums and galleries, the crown jewel spaces of luxury consumption inset into the trash piles of colonial violence and artificially imposed order. In his work the trash comes back, the plastic flowers, candy wrappers, Christmas lights and spinning baubles, tatters of upholstery fabric and pages of women’s magazines all return, the waste, the slogans, the haunted literal and imaginative detritus of the bounded white settler colonial state gets threaded together through needlepoint, quilt, and other meticulous handcrafted modes, feminised working-class crafts. Respect existence or expect resistance. 

The reputed gentleness of these crafts belies the ferocity with which Yore’s art invokes elements of society which have been cast out. Yore does not use the master’s tools, he makes no reasoned argument against the current order. Rather, he argues in form. The works are a maximalist blitzkrieg of slogans, images, textures, reminding us of what our overlords wish we would ignore. For example, in a heteropatriarchal mass culture that historically demonises queer culture for sexualising young people, Yore reminds us that predominant images of sexualised young bodies come from straight pop culture (Justin Bieber’s topless body appears repeatedly, among other young popstars). One piece bears the title ‘Old Sins Cast Long Shadows’.

The boundaries and borders of colonialism are a vicious lie, the independence of the white Western subject is a bullshit facade. There is no separateness; we are all interdependent, it is all tapestry, it is all as Yore’s works depict it, everything is mixed, twisted, intersubjective, threaded together and interdependent. We cannot have wealth without violence and scarcity, we cannot have prestigious art museums without garbage heaps, remedial schools, refugee camps and prisons. Donald Trump’s face pasted on a figure holding a cross, the phrase tra$H FAGGOT hand painted on its crotch, standing atop a television depicting, among other things, the towers burning on 9/11. The boundaries are fake, white supremacy itself is a tapestry, settler-colonialism is a tapestry, the texture of oppressions and resistances are in everything, all symbols are interlocking and all meaning is networked, whatever it is you’re avoiding, you can’t get away from it. FUCK OFF WE’RE FOOLS.

  1. The viewer

Art spaces and luxury consumerism recapitulate one another; carefully lit sterile interiors where discrete products are organised and displayed, where employees and guards look at you in a particular way as you enter. These carefully designed spaces are advertised to the wider world with images of compelling objects (e.g. young bodies, paintings) strategically displayed to recruit attention and awareness to the existence of said sterile interiors containing said products. BRUSH YOUR TEETHS 4 DAddY.

People can enter these spaces to consider purchasing the objects, as well as to feel like the kind of person who looks at the thing, to be offered a story about their own subjectivity. You are the kind of person who went to the art gallery, the museum, the Balenciaga store, you are the kind of person in your particular outfit, you have taste and style, you are elegant, valuable, sexy, historical. You struggle not to feel devalued by the hierarchies and deprivations, you struggle to make meaning out of your place in the ladder. HIT ME BABY ONE MORE TIME.

What kind of person do you feel like when you look at Paul Yore’s work? The prevailing emotional currency of capitalist white supremacy is anxiety, and Yore knows this. The phrase CALL YOUR MUM appears next to a smashed Blackberry mobile device on one end of a trash mosaic while on the other end, rainbow refrigerator magnets declare I’M NOT AFrAID AnY-MOrE. The chaotic works declare war on the sterile art spaces in which they appear. Garish neon colours, misshapen corners, spiralling mixes of texture, a whole landfill of materials.

One response to anxiety, of course, is laughter. How else to understand the bloviation of the art world in the wreckage of colonial violence but with bulging, dripping cartoon dicks, invocations of queer joy and mischief, mockery of the figureheads of the corrupt establishment? Of queer people, Yore said, ‘We do not want to be seamlessly assimilated into dominant straight society’, and the work, like anything disruptive and attractive, invites you to either applaud the interruption or cringe at it, take up arms or go back to your ordered routine with neutral tones and 90-degree corners. If you retreat from the piece, if you can’t take it, the joke is on you. A quilted fox with the word ‘super ego’ sewn into it, and a caption that declares I am the me you wanted me to be. Yore’s work, like the punk culture he draws from, make lots of noise, welcoming you to join in or fuck off. Hey FAGS Jesu$ LOVEs yOU.

The pieces, while they overflow with a cornucopia of concepts and symbols, are not pretentious or highfalutin. Academics fill volumes with abstruse theories to wrestle with the ideology of state, police, and other architects and enforcers of oppressive hierarchies. Yore’s work instead lugs a sound system into a library and gleefully presses play, brings a can of spray paint into a dress shop and leaves a dripping cock on the wall. You can understand exactly what he means, even if you are a child, as long as you are willing to really look. This rainbow prismatic elemental clarity in the chaotic work does not mean that it is simple or unobtrusive. fuck Western epistemology.

Yore describes his politics as being formed by participation in protest movements and the textural text, image, and found object collisions of his works often evoke protest signs, the structures he builds resemble encampments, the figures are like papier maché puppets one might encounter at a rally or demonstration. The emotional tone of the pieces is not sombre but rather aggressive, playful, mocking. The work invokes the vileness of the legacy of colonial violence with childlike rage and childlike wisdom. Yore draws inspiration from the Dada tradition and the playful rejection of sense-making seems a sensible response to atrocity in his world. BE ALERT BUT NOT ALARMED.

While Yore’s work does not depict everyday scenes, the tethers to real life exist in the materials, many of which he has laboured over for hours and days and months, and many of which, by virtue of being found objects, are second-hand, bearing the marks of use and life by prior consumers and subjects, the objects they touched and discarded ending up in the pieces. As a viewer of the pieces, you are present with the many people who touched the materials before Yore did; factory workers, children, mothers, sanitation workers, and trash-pickers. The demented tapestry of stuff that is late capitalism includes our bodies, and if you gaze long enough into Yore’s pieces, you may begin to feel your body too.

What do you want when you look at Yore’s work? As I was writing this piece, a lover came and stood by me, closer and closer they came while I was typing, their crotch nearing my face. It is a hot day and we are both sweating. Within moments, I was naked and flat on the hard floor, their hand inside me. This is what happened when I gazed long at Yore’s pieces. The work is jubilant, nonprocreative sex is profane because it is sacred, Heterosexuality is a virus. 

The substance of the work has been met with literal resistance from the state; in 2013 Victoria Police raided an exhibition because of accusations the work contained obscene material. Implied in the raid is the danger of the work; we may all become pornographers and perverts if we see that which is prohibited. We may be tainted by these fractal pastiche sex dreams about queer sex and the collapse of empire, we need the state to protect us. WELCOME TO HELL. 

In white capitalist juridical frameworks things are supposed to be all one way, a valuable product, an intelligent person, an officer of the law, an employed person. The things we own are supposed to belong to us and no one else, supposed to define us. Products are featured and sold at one part of their lifecycle, before they are trash and after they are extractively produced. In Yore’s vision we are at war with our oppressors and with history, but the battle is as joyful and farcical as possible, the disruption of the flows of the networked violences of our times – and the times before ours – involves surrender of propriety and sense-making, all of the parts touch all the other parts, BURN THIS ARTWORK.


hannah baer is a writer, therapist, and activist based in New York. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, Artforum, and Jewish Currents. She is the author of the memoir trans girl suicide museum.