When Gilbert decided to give up
Last week in Munich: In the Filmmuseum, Gilbert & George and the audience saw a restored version of their performance "Singing Sculptures" from 1991 for the first time. The film by Philip Haas opens the "Traumzeit" series of the "Kino der Kunst" Festival that combines visual arts with film. The next morning the two artists are peeled again. They are wearing two suits that, for their circumstances, have an unusual color contrast to one another. During our interview at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof there is also filmmaker Haas, who laughs at every evil saying from Gilbert or George.
Gilbert and George, you like to say the whole world is reflected in the streets of your neighborhood: Spitalfields in London's East End, with an Anglican church on one end and a mosque on the other.
George: There is also a German church there, by the way.
How is the turmoil surrounding Brexit reflected in Spitalfields? Anything you can use?
Gilbert: In Spitalfields there were a lot of anti-Brexit flyers on the street, but none that we wanted to use for our art. We avoid dealing so directly with party politics. We also believe that Brexit will ultimately pass us by without a trace. Life will go on just as it did before. We really just want to finally become free people. Our continental European art dealer said to us: "Europe will be much better off without Britain." Then he should get by without us!
George: We use the footage from the streets more like we did in our 1977 Dirty Words Pictures. The script snippets from the neighborhood that we included in the montages were something like: "Fuck. Shit. Titty. Tail." That felt very natural to us. As natural as an artist looking out the window or going outside to paint trees, landscapes or prostitutes.
Gilbert, you also studied art here in Munich. Did you find our streets to be a rich source of inspiration?
Gilbert:Munich is too bourgeois for that!(laughs) The whole bourgeoisie of Germany is gathered here. We always say that we only found real art back then in London.
As a Brexit advocate, Thatcher fan and staunch monarchist, how do you stand in your liberal-hip London neighborhood?
Gilbert:We stay there out of spite. After all, we were there long before the Liberals and the Bangladeshis.
George:Our political attitudes are often misunderstood: Conservatism seeks to exist primarily for the individual and for his freedom rather than for the collective; be it the group of doctors or nurses. As artists we have to be there for the individual and address him. The individual should be free to get up in the morning, assert himself in his otherness and feel capable. It should be able to get up and say: "Fuck you all."
Not least because of your urge for freedom you are at war with all religions. But as dazzling as you process extremism in your huge photomontages, the impression arises that you are at the same time fascinated by religious zeal.
Gilbert: Of course we are.
George:We are the only contemporary artists who still deal with religion. Everyone else just rushed to abstract or minimalist art, ignoring religion.
Gilbert:40 years ago everyone thought prematurely that art about religion had been eaten. But then Islam came along and changed everything in Europe and America.
George: Yes, even the airports, because without Islam there would be no security checks. That didn't exist before 2001, did it? Every daily newspaper that we pick up and every television program is dominated by the subject of Islam today.
You're trying to block out the media. They don't have a radio, they only watch a single TV show, and they don't pay any attention to the art of others in the first place. After all, you want to present yourself as a "living work of art" around the clock, so there is little time left. Are you still an art now when you sit here with me?
George: Well hopefully.
Are there things that you have to refrain from doing?
Gilbert:No, we don't want anything else. We have a vision to which we are very much committed. We don't need a break from it or a vacation. Everyone else just wants to run away from their jobs, preferably to Thailand, but not us.
George:We always say: life is one vacation - vacation from what comes after. And we're doing well with it. We are now 75 and 77 years old and we are just outliving all of our art dealers and critics. Some of them passed away in a downright unpleasant way.
Do I hear schadenfreude out there?
George:Our pictures were always too complex and sophisticated for our critics. But we are more than happy that they were against us. The broad masses can no longer be talked into by critics these days anyway. For example, did you see the Freddy Mercury movie? No critic liked him and he was still a success.
Gilbert:Nobody remembers the names of our critics once they are dead. They disappear into insignificance. I think they're just scared that their own teenage kids might one day come home and suddenly be interested in Gilbert & George's art.(laughs)"Daddy, have you seen the Gilbert & George exhibit? It was amazing!"
George:One of our harshest critics recently died in a car accident on the way to a lecture about us in another city. The notes on what he wanted to say about us were still in his glove compartment.
So this is what happens to your opponents. And what plans do you have in the glove compartment?
Gilbert: We are currently working on a new, large group of pictures, very exciting. We can't tell you much about it other than that you probably won't like them. One of them is called "Bedwetting".
George: Our mission is: We want to win and be loved like everyone else.
Gilbert:We haven't quite got there yet, but it will be fine!
You have come a long way since your "Singing Sculptures": the two of you singing a serenade with metallic make-up in a loop. It will soon be 50 years old. The two sculptures performed the song "Underneath the Arches" about two frugal homeless people. What would they sing today?
George:The same of course. The world it describes is still there in London: the Hotel Ritz is still there, the arches are still there and it is still teeming with vagabonds - even if they are younger today. And drugs instead of alcohol.
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