Gilbert & George: London Pictures @ White Cube – REVIEW
This week White Cube bedecks the world with the largest series ever made by iconic artist duo Gilbert & George – London Pictures. These new works are composed of 3,712 tabloid headline posters, collated and sorted according subject so as to create 292 pieces – with one for ‘Race Hate’, one for ‘Yobs’, one for ‘Stabbed To Death’, and so on.
So we are subjected to an onslaught of real-life horror stories – ‘Newborn Baby’s Body Dumped’, ‘Banker’s S+M Death Riddle’, ‘Woman Cut in Ritual Mutilation Horror’. Soap-like in their melodrama, shocking in their truth, the works play on this vibration between tabloid theatre and vile authenticity: these posters ‘exist on two levels’, the artists explain. First, ‘to sell newspapers (and it would a silly newspaper who didn’t try to sell)’. And second in ‘the reality’ – that ‘that person was killed on that tube that day …, that that person was raped in that park that afternoon’.
To create the works, Gilbert & George have simply ‘lifted the pictures out of the world’, upon realising the sheer wealth of material encoded within these daily disposables: ‘all these amazing world subjects – murder, sex, rape; human subjects inside this big city’. While locally-designated ‘London’ Pictures, the city works as a microcosm for the macro-universal, with the artists believing London to be ‘the most typically “planet earth” place in the world’; ‘whatever is there, is roughly in the rest of the world’.
But on closer inspection, G&G are more quite clearly talking more specifically about the Western world. Because the artists don’t understand such horrors as a-historically intrinsic to human existence but as the direct product of the particular way that we choose to live here today: ‘We’re all complicit with what’s happening in the world; we all helped make the world how it is, allowed it to become what it is’, they tell us.
For the very same reason, however, the works are not all doom and gloom, with these incidents the penance in our cultural quest for ‘total freedom’: ‘We wanted this privileged world …, and of course there’s a price to pay for that.’ And so ‘all this filthy material’, all this ‘amazing misery, shame, and unhappiness’, must also be understood as ‘an enormous celebration of freedom …, as all part of our complex world’. This is a freedom that stretches down even to the ability to publish such texts in the first (second?) instance: ‘There are countries which wouldn’t have posters like this; there are countries where you can’t have these words in public; there are countries where they don’t allow figures of murder to be reported in the newspaper’.
There is, of course, something wonderful about the timing of this series: an explicitly Dickensian vision for the author’s centenary; the repeated motif of the Queen’s coinéd profile on her Diamond Jubilee; and, most importantly, a deeply unnerving insight into the darker dimension of London life in the year the city is to host the Olympics. All apparently ‘by accident’; but this is not to dismiss the significance of such correlation, Gilbert & George citing their privileged position as artists – observing, absorbing, responding, even sub-consciously – in explanation: ‘artists have magic eyes; we are able to see differently from other people’.
This messianic element is not something to be dismissed lightly, but perhaps holds the key to the work – and not only because Gilbert & George are eternally preoccupied with the fundamentals of existence, codified as ‘Death, Hope, Life, Fear, Sex, Longing, Race, War.’ Rather it is in their in their deep, heartfelt desire to effect moralistic revolution – ‘to make a contribution, to offer the possibility for change’. Words/ Photo Thomas Keane © 2012 ArtLyst
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