Gilbert & George – Art and Love at First Sight
min Read18 August 2023
In 1967, two young students, Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore, met at Central Saint Martins College of Art in London. It was love at first sight and they never separated again, whether in art or in life. After 55 years they still live together, wear identical tweed suits, share the same circle of friends, and last but not least, make art together. Always and only with one another because Gilbert and George are two in one and they consider themselves as one artistic identity.
Life Is a Performance
Their formal and composed look might be a little misleading, however, since their lifestyle, especially when they were young, was anything but conventional and conservative. Straight from the beginning of their activity at the university, Gilbert & George believed that anything they did, said, and thought was art and hence that the life they led was worth documenting and preserving in photographs. And since their lifestyle defied the conventions of the late 1960s, so did their art.
Their groundbreaking piece was a performance The Singing Sculpture during which they sang and danced on a table to one of the standards by Flanagan and Allen, the Underneath the Arches. It is a song about two tramps who tell about the pleasures of sleeping rough: by selecting it Gilbert & George referred to the traditions of vaudeville but also identified with the society’s marginalized groups.
Art Is to Provoke
With time they moved onto video and photography, media which did not require their physical presence and could reach more people in less time. The leading thread of their art is provocation. They question social conventions and dogmas, often very aggressively using swearwords, iconoclastic images, or even bodily fluids. They say that they want their art to “bring out the Bigot from inside the Liberal and conversely, to bring out the Liberal from inside the Bigot” and they criticize other contemporary artists for not asking enough questions if any at all.
They state straightforwardly,
We see all the other artists as somehow meaningless.
To Include the Other and to Exclude the Familiar
As an openly gay couple, Gilbert & George want to convey a message of inclusion and tolerance, and to show how those who do not fit the conventional “type” are marginalized and still treated as “other”. By using a bold bright-colored and sometimes even hallucinogenic aesthetic, they scream straight into the viewer’s face, shocking both visually and conceptually. Their large-scale photographs, usually divided into rectangular sections by sharp outlines, bring to my mind the stained glass one finds in churches, which perfectly fits Gilbert & George’s idea of defamiliarizing the traditional imagery and of striving towards a world free from taboos, religion, and political correctness.
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