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Sexy, Smart, Perverse: Art2Go Deliver

James Barrett and Robin Forster are Art2Go, a creative coupling who prove that in art, as in life, two heads are better than one. Rhoyce Nova explores their controversial position in the British art world.



X-rays, condoms, latex gloves, mirror balls, dental amalgam and porn mags: such is the raw material of London-based artistic outfit art'g0. James Barrett and Robin Forster may lack the notoriety of certain other gay-couple-art-mates, like Pierre et Gilles and Gilbert & George, but that seems set to change. Known more for their artwork than their publicity stunts or mug shots, the boys of art'g0 are beginning to make their mark in the international art arena.


Some nine or so years ago two boys met on the stairs of a gay sauna. Political expats the pair of them - Barrett fleeing the racism of apartheid South Africa, Forster the homophobic world of oil industry engineering. Exiled in this dank, steamy environment they found each other, and their futures. It was love and lust at first sight.


Indeed, profitable mergings seem to be a part of the art'g0 ethos Barrett, the fledgling artist, was full of good ideas but a little short on technical skills. Enter Forster, the engineering wizard with a hidden penchant for the artistic. Not long after, they gave birth to Condom Culture, their first solo exhibition at the Joe Orton Rooms in London.


"Our working together happened rather by accident, .. reveals Forster. "I have this inability to deal with technical ineptitude, and one day I was at James· and he was fiddling with this mess of light bulbs plugged into all the wrong places, so I just stepped in."

Blessed with incisive minds and irreverent wit, Barrett and Forster come across more like a culturally savvy comedy duo than a serious conceptual art pairing - although just who is the straight man is open to question. Barrett, the beefier of the two, is eloquent and forthright. Everything he says is informed and fascinating, but you just can't shut him up. Forster is quieter but something of an interjector, forced to be such, one suspects, by the uninterrupted flow of Barrett's monologues. Forster might not say much, but when he does his sardonic one-liners prove the perfect foil.


Ifs midnight in London but night-owl Barrett is more than happy to wax lyrical about the exploits of art'g0 Forster is more interested in his baked beans. Ensconced in their brand spanking new studio, the boys settle down to regale the speaker phone with off-the-record tales of being young artists "who happen to be gay". Gradually, stories about being cruised by famous artists on the underground and mercy dashes for still-wet rectal castings emerge. The comedy duo have their audience.


To think that art'g0 are, however, merely gay, mirror ball-wielding artistic larrikins with no mind for the seriously political is misguided. Barrett works full-time for an HIV prevention program set up by the National Health Service while Forster supplements his income with heavyweight graphic art projects for international galleries.


As well as a bed, the boys share a history of protest marching and government lobbying, and have a respectable array of academic letters after their names. But academic letters and protest marching do not the artist make. Informed thinking and technical know-how goes part of the way, but the real force of art'g0's work stems from the refinement of their aesthetic touch and their irreverent appreciation of pop culture.





Although preferring not to label themselves ··gay artists, they are certainly not in the business of denying the reality of their lived existence, both as gay men and as a couple who have had more than a passing acquaintance with the horror of the AIDS crisis.

Art2g0's work, without ever using pictures of people living with AIDS or actual viral material, conveys a vision - sometimes contemplative, sometimes shocking, always evocative and beautiful - that moves in and around the realities and complexities of gay culture and AIDS. Condoms with pins poked through the tips; self-portraits with fisting gloves shoved over their heads; hole-punched porn magazines revealing a peep show of pees and penises; rectal castings bronzed and buffed like a Jeff Koons blow-up bunny are just some of the artistic artefacts that the Barrett and Forster pairing come up with when left alone in their studio for, one suspects, too long.


Forster and Barrett have no desire to cement images of gayness and AIDS in the public psyche. They believe in the ambiguity of art; the fact that you can never really anticipate or control the response people will have to it. Barrett recounts an experience of his early activist involvement with the group Queerbash.


"When I was younger I got bashed up in the underground and I took a photograph of my severely swollen face. I looked at it as saying something about those pictures you see of AIDS 'victims' with visible sores on their faces, but when I showed it to a friend he remarked that pictures of bashed young men turn him on. That reminded me of just how you can never anticipate the way images are going to be received."




Perverse punch-up fantasies aside, the response of art critics to the work of art'g0 seems equally unpredictable. Concerned about the response of conservative Manchester locals to their newly bronzed rectal castings they decided to label them "colonic castings". When a certain official inquired as to exactly what colonic castings were, Barrett put it this way, "Well, Lady Di had a colonic irrigation, so if it's alright for a princess then it should be alright for you." The official seemed to agree but in his confusion contributed to a typo that had art'g0 presenting "colonic cats" to the unsuspecting public of Manchester.


Whether their work is decried as "Perverse, weirdo, jumped-up crap that's got nothing to do with art", or lauded as "sexy and smart some of the best art out and about", the boys are just glad that their artistic labours are starting to make an impact. According to Forster's sarcasm, "Yes, we're moving on. We've done queer, we've done in-­your-face, now we're going to get rich and famous by doing artwork that"s acceptable to the masses."

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