Their message is explicit: "We want to spill our blood, brains, and seed in our life-search for new meaning and purpose to give to life." Although it's difficult to say what this new meaning might be, it's clear that Gilbert &... [more]
Their message is explicit: "We want to spill our blood, brains, and seed in our life-search for new meaning and purpose to give to life." Although it's difficult to say what this new meaning might be, it's clear that Gilbert & George think they can find it in bodily substances. Shit, piss, blood, urine, semen, tears -- anything the body secretes or excretes -- harbors profound biological truths. But these truths are not merely biological. Gilbert & George delve into the vile substances of the body in search of spiritual truths as well: waste products, they believe, contain divine essences. Their artistic project, then, is to reveal these essences to the world. As they say: "We are not trying to reflect society; we are trying to create a new one."
It seems that the artists have been clear about this moral goal since the very beginning of their careers. In 1969 they sent out postcards to 300 art world figures, depicting themselves gazing out a window at the city of London, as snow falls lightly outside. A caption thanks the recipients for "being with us at these moments" in which the artists "felt themselves taken into a sculpture of overwhelming purity, life, and peace, a rare and new art-piece." Humility has never been a stumbling block for Gilbert & George; with such unshakeable conviction concerning their artistic mission, they feel no need to shirk away from self-promotion. They want to get their message out, make people pay to hear and see it and, in the process, bring into being a new society.
In their early work, the artists themselves often appeared as part of the piece. In "Singing Sculptures" (1969), the work that brought them their initial fame, Gilbert & George stand on a small stage, dressed as always in identical suits, faces painted gold, one holding a walking stick, the other a cane. As a tape recorder plays an old Flanagan and Allen song, the artists sing along, shuffling from side to side, stopping only to rewind the tape. In later works the artists appear in enlarged photographs pasted into enormous, brightly-colored canvases. But whether present in the flesh or in print, Gilbert & George always preside over their works, almost always naked. They see themselves as an intrinsic part of their art, inseparable from its life-bearing message. As carriers and creators of new meaning, they reify and deify their own presence, and go so far as to consider themselves the living avatars of Christ.
Is all of this a bit ironic? It's difficult not to think so when you see the way these two old men pose -- deadly serious -- before their enormous canvases depicting the molecular structures of semen, shit, and urine. But it's impossible to say. Gilbert & George have fused their lives so thoroughly with their art that the distance irony inevitably implies has apparently been vanquished. Look again at their faces: is one of them almost smirking? Not quite. Well, maybe. In the end, it's a very tenuous line they seem capable of holding. But after all, the bearers of new meaning and new purpose must epitomize poise. [show less]