- WS by Paul McCarthy
We have a slightly different type of review for this exhibit. Rather than the traditional single-voiced authoritative review of one reviewer, it seemed appropriate to break the rules a little for this special issue and for this particular show. This review is a multivoice and multiperspective undertaking, providing [End Page 171] brief glimpses of the show from five of the students in Kay Turner’s “Temporality in Performance” class taught as part of the graduate program of the Performance Studies Department at New York University in the summer of 2013.
Jennifer Orme, Review Editor
Kay Turner, New York University
Paul McCarthy’s installation WS, on display at the Park Avenue Armory drill hall in the summer of 2013, is many things. Among the words that immediately spring to mind are sordid, flashy, shocking, ostentatious, demoralizing, hilarious, bizarre, raucous, and just a bit icky. McCarthy’s confrontation of issues of time and, in particular, ephemeral cultural objects is perhaps more interesting than the illustrative demonstrations of a hundred creative uses for Hershey’s chocolate sauce.
WS is a large-scale installation that riffs off of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The main component of the installation is the hours upon hours of video footage depicting an encounter with White Snow, McCarthy’s alternate-universe Snow White; the nine (rather than seven) frat-bro dwarfs; and Walt Paul, a sinister alter ego of Walt Disney played by the artist himself. The narrative revolves around a reimagining of Snow White’s coming upon the dwarfs’ cottage and becoming a part of their world, which takes the form of an intense bacchanal filled with drinking, sex acts, bodily fluids of all kinds, and the eventual anticlimactic death of White Snow. This narrative comes in pieces and parts and is viewed on eight wall-spanning giant screens in the main room; some smaller segments screen in a series of “side chapels” in the Armory.
Issues of temporality arise in the structure of the bizarre, asynchronous narrative, but McCarthy’s most intriguing play with time comes in the installation’s display of physical objects. The house, the enchanted forest, and all the bits of evidence of filth, debauchery, pleasure, and destruction have been transported and placed in the dead center of the room, surrounded by the video. These pieces are the bits of preserved ephemera that call into question the entire realm of enchantment McCarthy has built in his video work. Visitors can peek through holes cut into the set for camera lenses and see the mess of food, drink, fluid, garbage, clothing, party bits, Christmas trees, ruined furniture, and life-sized silicone casts of White Snow and Walt, depicting their abjection as a permanent fixture of the space.
Experiencing the set, one is less sure how to confront the scenes of the video. The line between the realm of enchantment and the realm of the real is no longer so clean. The presence of these real objects makes us confront the pastness of the event. Suddenly, WS is a record of an event, one in which enchantment—for better or for worse—momentarily seeped into our world.
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There are plenty of temporal lenses through which one might experience Paul McCarthy’s WS. There is its uncanny use of doubles and mirrors; or the disorienting effects of the hours of video, defying linear order by playing on loop; or the artificial forest as a perverse Garden of Eden, existing outside, before, or at the beginning of time. What speaks most to me is the house at the center of the installation and the means by which it complicates our understanding of evidence, temporal order, and linear storytelling. Most viewers, drawn to the dazzling centerpiece of the installation, peer into the house before they watch the videos in the bunkers; thus we witness the remnants of Dionysian excess before we become privy to the events...