The Politics of Cultural Critique: 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 such as hot dogs, ground meat, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, he enacted performances of consumerism in which he both ingested and expelled this potent mixture of foodstuffs. McCarthy succeeds in relaying this nausea to his audiences, both in the live moment of performance and whilst watching performance recordings. This paper considers 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. Looking at two performances – Hot Dog (1974) and Tubbing (1975) – this paper 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.
Citation : Curtis, H. (2013) The Politics of Cultural Critique: Vomit and Disgust in Paul McCarthy’s Performances of the 1970s. Shimmering, Shining, Vomiting, Glitter: The Politics and Poetics of Disgust (symposium), Nottingham Contemporary art gallery, 14 November.
Research Institute : Institute of Drama, Dance and Performance Studies
Peer Reviewed : No
- School of Arts