Portraits of Artists 08

Conversation with Paul McCarthy

Paul McCarthy: There was a period where I didn't make the connection between painting and performance. It was a period where the performances were minimal and usually dealt with the kind of duration but were directly related or often related to either film or video – where the camera seemed to be the thing that I was either reacting to or using on someone. They became almost like video pieces and that was a thing that was really going on in Los Angeles. William Wegman was there and another artist named Wolfgang Stoerchle. The idea of making sort of these black-and-white video tapes in your studio – also Nauman – was a thing that was going on in the early seventies in Los Angeles a lot. I think it was maybe – probably – going on in Europe too although it was hard to find tapes or see tapes but in Los Angeles that was sort of a genre of work. So I was using, I was sort of responding to the camera and doing things with the camera. Maybe that's why I made the travelling camera pieces. In those pieces I was interested in penetrating and going inside the object or penetrating the architecture like I made tapes and films where I simply drew a straight line across Los Angeles, from one edge of Los Angeles to the other, and then would walk that line. Which means that you would end up in people's backyards and through buildings.

Timothy Martin: Like "The Swimmer".

PM: Yeah, it would become like a kind of thing where you'd be going fine and all of a sudden you'd come to an obstacle: a wall taller than you could get over or something like that. I never finished the piece. And then I imagined making a film that would do the same thing. I started working on a film in which the camera spun and the arc got bigger and bigger. And you would actually come to the wall, and then you would pick up on the other side of the wall and continue until the arc took you into another room. So, it was like an arc or a spiral that was going like that until it got bigger and bigger. You asked if there was something about passing through walls. I remember at the time there was a Dennis Oppenheim piece which was about the same thing: a conveyer belt that went through a wall but dropped a penny on the other side. As if you could pass through walls. Then I did some pieces where I poked a hole in the wall and plastered my head into the wall so that, when you came in, it was just the body hanging out with the head stuck in the wall. And then I did some where I stuck my arms out the wall. On the other side were two arms sticking out.

TM: To be photographed?

PM: Yeah, and they were kind of performances – there were people watching. They watched the process of me putting the hole in the wall. I did it myself: I poked the hole in the wall, stuck my head into the wall – or mixed plaster, poked the hole in the wall, packed the plaster around my head so that when somebody came in they saw this body hanging out.
Well, about '72 I did a piece where I made a list of things that I would do over a one-week period. There were things like: I would go to a stranger's house and refuse to leave; I would open and shut a door for forty minutes. It was when I was just graduating from school. Up until that point I'd been doing these pretty much minimal pieces. In that particular piece I did something with Vaseline: I covered a wall in Vaseline and spray-painted it red. So, it sort of started. – I was mixing oil and water at that time. I was doing these pieces where I mixed oil and water and I'd also done some floor pieces with glass and ketchup. The thing which did happen is that the liquids – the ketchup and all that – was a way of getting the thing going. And I began to think of it that way: Once the liquids were introduced into the action, the action then started as if whatever kind of transformation took place of the personas and materials; once liquid was introduced then it began. And without the liquids it wouldn't begin. But I'm interested right now in making some films that probably go back to the things I wanted to do in the late sixties which involved moving cameras – like where the camera moves; I did the piece "The Garden".

TM: Can you describe it a little?

PM: It's a platform about twenty feet by thirty feet and on it is laid out this fake landscape which involves fibreglass trees and fibreglass rocks and artificial grass, not Astroturf but the actual grass matting that's used in the movies. And the fibreglass trees are all movie props and some of them, three of the trees were from the actual set of "Bonanza". They sat in front of the cabin, the "Ponderosa". And the trees range in size from three feet in diameter to about twenty-five, twenty-six feet tall to twelve or thirteen inches in diameter and fifteen feet tall. In this artificial garden are these rubber-formed figures, cast from moulds of human beings, that are motorized: One fucks or fornicates with a tree and the other one with the ground. They're positioned in a way that you can't immediately see them – they're sort of hidden within the trees and within the rocks – and they don't gaze out at the landscape but seem to be sort of gazing into nothing – it becomes very voyeuristic. The piece I just did you go in and there are doors slamming; about every two minutes all the walls open up. And I'm working on one now where the room spins and one where everything is moving in the house, everything's moving. They have all the kind of sidings of a chalet or a house. They're meant to be almost like simulators – from the outside they look like a functional structure of some sort. The inside has been camouflaged into an interior which is somewhat believable, even though you know you're not in a real chalet – the idea is you might begin to believe you are, and then it simulates itself – it begins to do something, it moves, it falls apart, it expands.

(Vienna, November 1992)