BAWDILY EC­CEN­TRIC

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

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-

is man­u­fac-

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