Ent-Grenzung und Groteske: Ekel in den performativen Installationen Paul McCarthys

  • Anja Foerschner (Autor/in)


This essay examines the different manifestations of disgust in Paul McCarthy's performative installation works. The discovery of the human body as artistic tool as well as expanding definitions of the genres of sculpture and installation since the mid-20th century have introduced disgust as a ubiquitous ingredient of, but also recurring problem in, contemporary art. A uniquely ambivalent emotion, disgust triggers in us an immediate and forceful bodily and psychological rejection paired with a latent sensation of fascination. Disgusting art—difficult to classify, examine, exhibit, or mediate-is thus censored, ridiculed, shunned, or even physically attacked. The essay will present a survey of the different forms and functions of disgust. Biologically, the emotion prevents us from substances that could be potentially harmful to our system. In its social context, disgust is vital to our definition and sense of social and cultural community, as well as the shaping of our personal and social identities. The transgression of physical and psychological boundaries, which constitutes a recurring element in disgusting art, signifies a threat to our personal and social identities and is thus violently fended off with disgust. Using McCarthy's complex performance and installation works of the last two decades, such as Piccadilly Circus (2003), Pirate Project (2005), or WS (2013), the essay will analyze what triggers disgust, our reactions to it, and its meaning in art. As an emotion that is integral to a functioning society, disgust in McCarthy's work offers a unique way of reflecting on the values, moral standards, and ideals of the Western world.