Amelia’s Magazine | Gilbert and George Bring the Freak Show to Town

What could be more British than Gilbert and George? They are the perfect symbols of a nation that is as renowned for its stiff upper lip as it is for its football hooliganism, for its uptight sexuality as its love of bawdy smut. Mild and mannerly yet anarchic and challenging, the artistic duo (two men, one artist) have been performing for us, exhibiting their art and showing us their shit for over 40 years now. And we love them for it.


George Passmore and Gilbert Proesch met, as Jarvis Cocker might say, whilst studying sculpture at St Martin’s college. Taking an unusual approach to their studies, they sacrificed themselves to live out their lives as a performance; the two became one living sculpture. Upon the realisation that singing Flanagan and Allen’s ‘Underneath the Arches’ for eight hours straight can get rather tiring, Gilbert and George branched out into film and photography, settling on their now trademark vividly coloured grid photographs that glow like unholy stained glass windows. It is this familiar technique that allows them to explore modern patriotism in their new show ‘Jack Freak Pictures.’


What could be more British than Jesus sporting a pair of Union Jack boxer shorts? This is the confusing and confrontational question that Gilbert and George pose to us in the image ‘Christian England’. Are we a patriotic people, a religious people, and what has happened to the ‘Christian England’ of old? Did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountains green? And might the holy Lamb of God have purchased his pants from a tourist shop?


When previewing ‘Jack Freak pictures’ the Evening Standard hinted that their new works go as far as blasphemy. Gilbert and George would surely be delighted at this, having asserted themselves as anti-religion and always up for shocking people into contemplation. However, not even a spokesperson for the Church of England could be riled; ‘It sounds very mild for them’ the holy one surmised.
Mild may not be the right word, but Gilbert and George do at least seem to manage to keep most of their clothes on for the majority of this series. Instead of naughty body bits, it is rosettes and medals that feature heavily in images such as ‘God Guard Thee’ and ‘Church of England’. The wonderfully titled ‘Ingerland’ appears as a mess of flesh, flailing arms and a hypnotic pattern of red, white and blue.


The Union Flag has provided much inspiration for the pair, from their image titles (‘Jesus Jack’, ‘Jack Shit’, ‘Jacksie’) right down to their ultra-patriotic suits. Subtly, this is where Gilbert and George’s shock tactics lie. The duo are content to calmly pose us with images of patriotism, ramped up to a level just shy of insanity, and then lie back and think of England as the audience themselves go insane wondering what it all means. The Union Jack is a loaded symbol. War time medals of honour hold connotations of terror and death. Christianity itself is complicated enough. But aren’t we told we’re supposed to be proud of all this?
Gilbert and George aren’t letting on, as they pose passively as the everyman in their images. Passively,yet aggressively. And what could be more British than that?


Gilbert and George: Jack Freak Pictures

White Cube Gallery
48 Hoxton Square
London N1 6BU

10th July 22nd August
10am – 6pm Tuesday to Saturday

Categories ,Gilbert and George, ,London, ,Preview, ,White Cube

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