Gilbert and George: the LDN pictures

The weather seems as undecided as I feel today. Clouds of rain are separated from bursts of sunshine with an invisible thread, that I seem to be pulling every time I decide to walk outside.
I am now sitting in a table in the middle of a really crowded Starbucks. I got a skinny latte and a blueberry muffin, and spent the first 10 minutes absent-mindedly taking it apart as I was focusing on the large window; focusing on what was behind it, who was behind it. Everyone slowing their pace when the sun came out; speeding up when the first signs of rain appeared; dancing awkwardly around pools of water on the street. A choreography that kept me hypnotised, a performance that no doubt would be taking place in every London street.

Thinking of the city makes me shiver. Londoners are a different breed, living in a different rhythm, with different rules. Highly competitive, extremely creative, moments appearing like fireworks; sudden bursts of light, and if you don’t know where to look, by the time you turn your head, they are gone.

One of these firework moments for me was when I first saw a Gilbert and George piece. I was walking in Tate Modern, lost in my world, notebook in one hand, camera on the other. I passed the door to the hall where it was hanging, and stopped; turned around; and just stood there. Moments later, I found myself standing in front of it hypnotised. I did not know exactly why; I still don’t. But it had this Gilbert and George quality of waking a very strong emotion inside you, behind your heart, a feeling of unease and excitement blending in the same exhale. I left without taking a picture of it, just with its title scribbled in my notebook: Red Morning Trouble.

A few months ago, I did a piece on HIV AIDS day awareness. As I was writing it, I was trying to think of the image that I would use for my posts. I stood in front of the screen, closed my eyes,and saw the picture. I grabbed my jacket and my iPhone, took the first bus and rushed through the maze of modern art, to stand in front of it and take a shot.

Last week, in one of these rare moments that I had the time to sit on the sofa, with a hot cup of echinea tea, I was leafing through Time Out London, scanning through the art listings, when I saw it. White Cube. Gilbert & George: London Pictures. Jacket, iPhone, first bus.

I first have to address the White Cube space. The first look upon arrival forces you to stop on your tracks, if not take a step back. Looking like it materialised out of thin air in the middle of the busiest point in London, it appears to be a part of a David Lynch movie. Minimal, sharp, slick, and immensely impressive, there could not be a better space to house the exhibition. I walked in, greeted by a lovely gallery assistant, and walked in the space.

Gilbert and George are pioneers in what they do. They were present in the birth of experimental art, art film, and conceptual art. They are universally known for their large scale structural pieces, placing pictures in symmetrical frames, and constructing a larger picture out of many, smaller ones. They use primarily black and white tones, embellishing the backgrounds with red and yellow, and the foreground with neon (or sometimes pale) prints of the artists themselves in various different poses.

Their work in the White Cube follows on the same path. However, when I stepped on the ground level of the gallery, I felt a tingling sensation. This work was similar, but different altogether. I sat on the wooden bench in the middle of the room, and looked at the space in front of me, next to me, behind me. I knew there was something thumping on the back of my mind, but I could not really understand it. And then I went to the lower ground of the gallery, a vast space filled with more London pictures. I was overwhelmed. The work had the kind of raw power that I felt when I saw their first piece, but this one was completely different. And then I knew why it had this effect on me.

I have a background in psychology, and more specifically, research. I love quantitative and qualitative designs, theorising and disproving, analysing and explaining. I love that we feel that we can truly understand, or predict human behaviour. I love the complexity and simplicity of the human psyche, and the glimpses you get by trying to analyse it. And while I was sitting in front of the work, I felt that Gilbert and George tried to do just that; offer an insight in the different aspects of their subject’s mind. Their subject? London.

For almost 6 years, Gilbert and George painstakingly gathered exactly 3,712 newspaper posters (the ones seen next to your local newsagent, used to give you a small but enticing snippet so that you buy the whole paper), and then grouped the titles in subjects, that then fell under categories. This meant that the size, title, and even subject was defined from the category itself (for example, with alphabetical or numerical classifications) -instead of the artists making am aesthetic decision. By doing that, their art making transcends ‘art making’, and provides a depiction of a reported reality: a gloomy, violent, impulsive, sorrowful, but always hopeful London. London, and the artists themselves, are the backdrops in portraits of humanity, taxonomy, and the never ending effort to classify, and understand the human factor.

However, there is another truly interesting bit for the psychology/linguistics nerds. Gilbert and George do not only look at the phrases and words behind the main news, but the content and classifications that are implied under them. For example, they visit the concept of gay and/vs straight, often classifying subjects under one or the other. The reason why this fascinated me is that this underlines the divisive and often irrelevant use of the adjective ‘gay’ as an intended insightful description of an act or person (something that lately has been debated about social issues like adoption, or marriage).

The exhibition runs simultaneously in the 3 White Cube galleries ( Bermondsey, Hoxton Square and Mason’s Yard), and is housing all 292 of the London Pictures. However, if you can not make the trip to the galleries, there is an amazing catalogue documenting all of them, accompanied with an essay by Michael Bracewell that was published by Hurtwood Press.

I left the exhibition feeling lighter. I just felt like I read someone else’s love letter for a person I love too. And it is the kind of all-round love, the love of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unimaginably beautiful.






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