Tuesday, 10 May 2011



Question: What do a shield, a wasp, a buddleia, a  sword, a spear and a mace have in common in Tate Modern?
Answer: Gilbert and George

Gilbert Proesch (born in Italy) and George Passmore (born in England) met at art school in 1967. For over 40 years they have adopted the identity of ‘living sculptures’ in both their art and their daily lives. One of their early works was ‘Underneath the Arches’, when they posed together for long stretches — up to eight hours —barely moving just miming to a record of the music-hall song of that title. Was this a sculpture or performance art or something else altogether? 

What exactly is ‘a living sculpture’? Here are their own words:
‘Being living sculptures is our life blood, our destiny, our romance, our disaster, our light & life. As the day breaks over us, we rise into our vacuum & the cold morning light filters dustily through the window. We step into the responsibility-suits of our art. We put on our shoes for the coming walk. Our limbs begin to stir & form actions of looseness as though without gravity they bounce about for the new day. The head afloat on top levels on the horizon of our thoughts – we like it because we’re so stupid, artistic & shy. Because we have come from nowhere & where we go nobody knows.’ (A Day in the Life of George & Gilbert the Sculptors 1971). 

In time they began to make pictures as a way of extending the idea of living sculpture so that their physical presence wasn’t necessary. ‘We are there like the viewer is there’, they said. Deatho Knocko  was one of their earliest large-scale works. It's a mild example of their perverse sense of beauty and appetite for unsightly things, things most people come to art museums not to see. And Death/Dead recur in their titles: ‘Dead Boards’, ‘Dead Head’, ‘Death Hope Life Fear’, ‘Death March’, ‘Death on Hope with Love’, ‘Death Over Life’, ‘Deatho Knocko’. 
With a tutor and group from City Lit I once visited them at their house/studio. There is an astonishing and unforgettable congruence between their life and their art.
In 2006 I stopped (at the Hayward Gallery, I think) to watch this Gilbert and George  black/white video with its liquid transparent quality, which should be viewed, it says, on high contrast. I don’t know why I found this so compelling. Perhaps it was Fingal’s Cave (always moves me to tears) being played by their next-door installation: ‘Gordon’s Makes Us Very, Very Drunk’.or perhaps it was the fragility of the faces, the slightly lowered lids, the cigarette slowly lifted to the lips, the stillness which allows you to stare – a thing impossible to do in real life.


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