Reviews Edinburgh Published 29 August 2014

Looking for Paul

Summerhall ⋄ 14th - 23rd August 2014

Art attack.

Rebecca Morris

As we made our way out of Summerhall, eyes still wide, my friend turned to me and said: ‘That’s the show I had been waiting to see all Fringe.’

I agreed. Wunderbaum’s Looking for Paul picks apart what I thought I knew about artistic collaboration. It spoke to me of that struggle to make work which truly expresses your intentions without lapsing into the familiar.

But you definitely don’t need to be an artist to enjoy Looking for Paul. It is not the sort of production everyone would enjoy; it’s difficult stuff at times, but it addresses a kind of fear and suspicion many inside and outside the art-world feel about ‘challenging’ art.

The company’s journey begins with artist Paul McCarthy and his radical, taboo-breaking, buttplug wielding public artwork, Santa Claus. It questions whether all public art is truly democratic or whether it is always useful to us. Wunderbaum aren’t giving us any answers, but they are trying, failing and trying again to address their own questions.

Paul McCarthy's Santa Claus

Paul McCarthy’s Santa Claus

They are pouring tah-mato sauce over the concept that the artists have to be concealed behind the artistry. They are doing this within the four walls of a theatre, which is wonderfully disorientating. Looking for Paul is an exercise in anti-theatre for the first hour at least but if you are partial to a bit of onstage anarchy the ending really doesn’t disappoint. Its seemingly chaotic but fabulously constructed finale is an absurd visual display of all the anxieties attached to making or understanding art.

The performers directly address the audience, playing versions of themselves. They describe their lives in the Netherlands and read out an extended email exchanges with each other, which appears to detail the making of the very show we are watching.

Looking For Paul is transporting; it takes us out of Summerhall, away from the festival and out of Edinburgh. I forget that me knees are almost up to my chin, I forget the hard plastic chair. The performers are endearing, annoying, silly, arrogant, naïve, clever, egotistical, hilarious. We are in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, with its wide clean streets and neat plazas. We are part of the company’s quest to find Paul McCarthy in L.A. We become part of Wunderbaum, sharing their darkest moments, downing vodka with them in their hotel rooms, wincing at the foolish choices they make and the ridiculous things they say.

You start asking questions about how real these performances are,  how closely related they are to the company’s original selves. And then, after an hour of these emails, the production undergoes a dramatic, rather sudden and thrilling transformation. The final scene is like an explosion. It’s messy and excessive; it’s SHIT and willies, bums, fannies, penetration, smelly food, over-consumption, pseudo-masochism and pseudo-sadism. The onstage action is captured on shaky cameras and looped on to screens in REAL TIME. Their pretense of exposing the reality behind the art is drowned in spaghetti and condiments, rivers of mustard and ketchup. Buried beneath these grotesque cartoons parading around the stage are elements of the people we have got to know before. Matijs Jansen’s dirty protest is a wildly exaggerated form of the navel-gazing tortured artist occasionally revealed in his email correspondence. Walter Bart, who in the lead up to the project’s debut obsessively seeks celebrity endorsement from Lady Gaga and is prone to fits of rage, becomes a hay-bale humping beast grunting Gaga lyrics. This section of the show is layered and self-referential yet it is delivered with a child-like exuberance and none of that self-knowing, you-need-to-have-read-Derrida-to-get-this smugness.

It’s the kind of scene you will either love or hate.  I loved it. If you know and love McCarthy’s work there’s a good chance you’ll love it too, but it’s not essential that you do. Taken on its own terms it’s still bloody clever, excessive, exuberant, and an utter joy.

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Rebecca Morris is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Looking for Paul Show Info


Produced by Wunderbaum

Link http://festival14.summerhall.co.uk/event/looking-for-paul-wunderbaum/

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