Shit: One of Many Brick Walls

by Art Fag City on October 18, 2005 Events

While production of Paul McCarthy Santa butt plugs etc may continue in Greenpoint there seems to be very little around New York these days from this artist. Perhaps the Paul McCarthy 2001 love fest gave the artist a little over exposure in the city. Yes, that would the year where in the space of two months Paul McCarthy had a retrospective at The New Musuem, and solo shows at both Luhring Augustine Gallery, and Deitch Projects. And for the record, as someone who isn’t particularly interested in gross out specials as a means of delivering a deeper artistic message, it was two months of hell.

Lest anyone is naive enough to think that the art world is not prey to trends like the rest of the world, let AFC quash these notions with Exhibit A: Paul McCarthy, 2005. Zero New York shows, and zero press coverage, but for AFC’s “Where Are They Now?” artist special. Except of course, that AFC doesn’t have much to tell you on this either. The reason Paul McCarthy makes today’s post, is his relationship to more fashionable art subjects, such as Internet art and fetish sites.

Over the weekend, an unrelated google image search lead AFC to a female mask fetish site which, aside from being creepy, is really very interesting because it walks the line between fetish and art. Don’t get me wrong, the content is mostly weird fetish stuff, but I think there is a lot to be said about some of the photography on this site, and there is an obvious connection to artist Paul McCarthy (and his collaborator Mike Kelly), that should at least be noted. The most obvious link between the two being an interest in constructed identities.

But let’s put aside McCarthy for a minute to discuss the merit of the fetish photographs on their own. The above is a photo comparison of a series of photographs published during the seventies by four different sources, and the 2003 recreation of this work by people who are on the site maskon. While the majority of photographs are clearly smut, this series is distinct from the bulk of the content on the site. What distinguishes the photographs created in the Bureau male to female series from the snapshots that people take of the stuff that turns them on, is that the staged event is more than just sexual stimuli. There is an interest in the history of the subculture and a desire to contribute to it. This coupled with the success of the project, keeps this work from existing only in the realm of fetish.

What I like about maskon is that spectacle does not deliver a greater social message. While the site is kinky, there has never been any expectation that everyone had to get sexuality anyway. The male to female series is about the performative and pictorial representation and documentation of the transformation of sexual identity. My impression is that from a fetish standpoint, transformation is slightly outside the goals of this group, as masks that are more real (and thus leave no trace of the original body) have been described as more desirable, and outside of this series, there is no documentation of the transformation process. Of course it is the omission of this sort of thing that tends to make the rest of the site fall short of “art” titles, since the production of things is always of interest to the art world and in particular, the artist.

McCarthy’s work is an obvious comparison to maskon what with his presidential mask performance work, tree fucking sculptures, and weirdo penises. His art is known for being kinky and about, among other things, identity (though it is not about transformation persay, McCarthy does tend to use sculptural figures as stand ins for people). In addition, his video collaborations with Mike Kelly on pieces such as Heidi (a reworking of a children’s story known for it’s abject depictions of iconography that represents innocence), at least start with the shared premise of adaptation. Now, clearly there is more to these artists works thematically then there is to maskon. I mean, I get it, broadly speaking these works investigate American identity, the production and structure of film and video, and family constructs. The problem is, I’m just not interested in the format, at least not one that has this many liquids involved. Which ultimately may turn out to be AFC’s rule of thumb. The use of spreadable materials such as shit, ketchup, and other other condiments, make for material that is inaccessible to a lot of people, including AFC. And it makes me kind of pissy that shit has proven once again to be a brick wall.

*Photo above, Heidi, 1992, by McCarthy/Kelly, Photo Courtesy of Electronix Arts Internix

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