production process. The artists take pictures of themselves and other models; they take pictures of details from nature, or especially specimens of urine, semen, blood or spit under the microscope. Then they design their montage compositions, print the images in black-and-white, and colour them selectively in bright and artificial pigments.
This whole process is backed up by an archive that is organised with meticulous, even obsessive exactness. Every picture taken is catalogued and numbered and can be referred to. Every finished work is composed of individual images which are cited by their file number so that they could be found and used again if necessary.
All the finished works are professionally photographed so that they can be reproduced in catalogues, like the extravagantly illustrated one that accompanies the MONA exhibition. Every exhibition is documented in exhaustively thorough installation shots for the same purpose, each show being recycled into illustrations for the next catalogue, and so forth. The artists are acutely aware that real fame tured through publication.
But these exhibitions themselves are fully controlled by this two-man production team. They have collections of scaled-down miniatures of all the pictures and when an exhibition is proposed, they make a cardboard model of the gallery and set out the pictures as they want them to hang, then send the assembled model to the gallery: they leave nothing to the whim of the local curator or gallery staff but dictate the whole appearance of the show — which is then duly documented for the next publication.
But even this is not all. Photos of social occasions surrounding each show, pictures of dinner parties, even of morning walks with picturesque details ranging from the bright colours of a market to a patch of chewing gum on the pavement, are photographed, filed in a packet with a number within a numbered box, all of which are entered into a catalogue for later retrieval.
Such an intensity of effort and commitment would probably be impossible to keep up, as David Sylvester astutely observed, without a partner who was entirely wedded to a common project. At one stage, indeed, one of them says that they never argue — the world, he adds, seems to them like one enormous argument and they at least should not argue. Films of them in the studio show the two of them working simultaneously on the same design, each drawing on one side of the same sheet of paper without the slightest self-consciousness or concern that what they are doing might not harmonise with the other.
Incidentally, a glimpse into the archive shows that all the works are preceded by sketches, gouaches, monochrome studies and other works that have the openness of process, the signs of thinking out problems, the freshness of solutions discovered. These, however, are never shown; only the finished works in forms and colours that they themselves describe as brutal.
But all of this is also part of the trouble with Gilbert and George’s work. It is not only extraordinarily self-referential, almost always including their own figures in various permutations, but also, for all its superficial variations in theme, seems always to come out of the same self-enclosed process, the endless re-