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Blood and Guts

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

The confrontational works of Gilbert and George are the bane of the British establishment. No wonder they're popular. Rhoyce Nova delves deeper into their artistic psyche.

THE NOTE READS: "Any of these pictures may be obtained from Natalie Prudence Cuming Ass. Yours Gilbert and George." Even in their daily correspondence, British artists Gilbert and George can't help but give the finger to the hyphenated pretensions of the English ruling class. The conscious agenda of Gilbert and George to get up the noses of the powers-that-be explains why their detractors are so vitriolic, and conversely, why their admirers have an enthusiasm akin to football hooligans.

Now middle-aged, Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore have been terrorising the British establishment for nigh on two decades, but age has not mellowed them. What began as a youthful satire of British conservatism has expanded to a rather more brutal examination of the human condition. One symbol that has survived their cultural wanderings is their "responsibility suits": Gilbert and George's grey flannel suits, white shirts, and nondescript ties serve as an ironic reference to capitalist slavery.

In line with their deeper delving into humanity's position in the world, both culturally and elementally, they have progressively peeled off the flannel suits, cotton shirts and silk ties. The revelation of their saggy, pinkish-grey, middle-aged bodies - not to mention unprepossessing penises - only served to inflame the disgust of already enraged conservatives. From their earliest 'living sculptures' to their most recent large-scale photo­montages, the art and lives of Gilbert and George have always been indivisible, and a sign of their inclusion in the larger quandaries of humanity.

The Naked Shit Pictures, their 1994 series of large-scale photographic works in which they appear naked alongside artfully arranged turds, led to them being labelled homosexual coprophiliacs. But Gilbert and George don't mind the insults. The artists use such fundamental bodily elements to elicit human emotions like disgust and abjection, fear and hope. In using basic body bits that everyone relates to, they are able to address larger concerns.

With titles like Piss Faith, In The Shit, and Piss On Us, Gilbert and George use clever visual and verbal puns to take the piss out of both culture and themselves. Their large-scale assemblages combine microscopic depictions of urine and saliva, sometimes manipulated to resemble crosses or guns, with images of their own naked bodies to draw attention to the inter-connection of life forces and cultural concerns.

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