In Bad Taste? Vomit and Disgust in Paul McCarthy’s Performances of the 1970s
In the 1970s, Los Angeles-based artist Paul McCarthy made visceral performances which appealed to audiences’ innermost feelings of disgust and revulsion. Using everyday materials – notably, consumable foodstuffs – such as hot dogs, ground meat, ketchup, chocolate syrup, mustard and mayonnaise, he enacted performances of consumerism in which he both ingested and expelled this potent mixture of materials. McCarthy succeeds in relaying this nausea to his audiences, both in the live moment of performance and whilst watching performance recordings. In this proposed article I consider vomiting in McCarthy’s performances, and the sense of nausea felt by his audience, as an act of resistance against unthinking consumers who swallow culture whole. In other words, McCarthy employs tactics of bad taste – typically, invoking ‘low culture’ and bodily excretions – as a critical tool for activating audiences. Looking at McCarthy’s performances – notably Hot Dog (1974) and Tubbing (1975) – this article looks at the urge to vomit and the will to prevent it, as a way of both alienating audiences and becoming more intimate with them. Artist Barbara Smith recalls from her experience of McCarthy’s live performance Hot Dog, the sense of nausea she felt when watching him stuff numerous hot dogs into his mouth. She considered it kinder to leave the room to vomit than to do so in front of the artist, for fear that he would do the same and risk choking. In my own reflections on McCarthy’s video performance Tubbing, I read his struggle to chew and digest raw meat not only as a struggle with his own body, but as indicative of his career-long interest in the politics of cultural critique; breaking it up, destroying it, or reconfiguring it into something less palatable.
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Citation : Curtis, H. (2017) In Bad Taste? Vomit and Disgust in Paul McCarthy’s Performances of the 1970s. Performance Research, 22 (7), pp. 119-125.
ISSN : 1352-8165
Research Group : Drama Research Group
Research Institute : Institute of Drama, Dance and Performance Studies
Peer Reviewed : Yes
- School of Arts