Cunt Scum, 1977
To kick things off – a full-blooded smack around the face from the big, sweaty hand of rebellion. Feeling better? Good. Created in 1977, this is only one element in their twenty-six-part work The Dirty Words Pictures. In their customary gridded format, the work explores a rapidly changing East End via sixteen photographs taken by the pair around their Spitalfields home. An ever expanding city skyline lurks ominously on the horizon, tightening tensions between the historical migrant communities of the area and a new-look far right – Gilbert & George masterfully ask us to re-consider which we find more offensive, the expletives or the burgeoning social turmoil?
Just in case Cunt Scum didn’t stress the point – 1996’s Spunk, Blood, Piss, Shit & Spit will probably just about do it. It’s not the first time the two had dabbled in human excrement either (see Shitted, 1983), but this particularly memorable entry for the Venice Biennial represents a more comprehensive interest in bodily fluids – taking microscopic views and blowing them up into massive wall-covering works. Like Cunt Scum though, its provocative and incendiary nature is intentional, we are, after all, “made of shit,” as the pair originally pointed out.
The Gilbert & George Gallery, 2017
Like any rebel worth their salt, G & G know how to sock it to the man – and this, years after their careers begun, proves the pair still know how to do just that. In 2007 they had their first UK retrospective at Tate Modern, but ten years down the line and there’s beef brewing with the country’s largest and most venerated contemporary museum. Not a work of art as such – rather, an announcement, in the Evening Standard, that they were done with the Tate and its “intolerant liberals.” Instead, they proposed a plan to convert a former Brick Lane brewery into an exhibition space to house their works – because, in their words, “the Tate never shows our work and they will never, because nothing is good enough for them.”
‘Gilbert and George Say Fuck The Planet’, ‘Gilbert & George Say Ban Religion’, ‘Gilbert & George Say Burn That Book’. By now you’re probably fairly non-plussed by the above, but when the exhibition was held at White Cube, it caused its fair share of outrage – much to the delight of its progenitors. The work is grounded in their belief that it is artists, authors and poets, who blaze the trail of progress throughout history, with politicians traipsing behind. Fuck the planet because environmentalism has become a totalitarian religion, burn that book because prescribed religious texts enforce religion in school. The works intend to wake us from a kind of liberal inertia, and the powerful sedative of political correctness and insular leftist thinking.
SONOFAGOD PICTURES, Was Jesus Heterosexual?, 2006
This particular show proved all too much for Tory MP Ann Widdecombe, who, upon seeing the work, concluded, “blasphemous in the extreme, as [they] will find out when finally they stand before the Son of God.” It takes a rebel of the highest order to read in between the lines of the Bible and reach the conclusion that, ‘Jesus Says Forgive Yourself. God Loves Fucking! Enjoy.’, but that’s precisely what they did in this stand against the dogma of organised religion.
The Beard Pictures And Their Fuckosophy is on at White Cube, Bermondsey, from 22nd November 2017 – 28th January 2018
Images, from top:
London Burning: Portraits from a Creative City, Thames & Hudson, 2015
Gilbert & George, The Dirty Words Pictures, Serpentine Gallery, 1977
Gilbert & George, The Banners, Yu Yigang, 2015
Gilbert & George, BEARDING ALONG, © Gilbert & George Courtesy White Cube, 2016