In the Ely House, a room of an apartment transformed into a gallery space, as part of the new Thaddaeus Ropac London location, works from renowned impetuous duo Gilbert and George are displayed. Photographs are shown, and a video is projected on the wall. In the intimate closed corner of the room, we discover Gilbert and George for the first time, or we, once more rejoice their previous work. Whichever the case, humour and gravity both intricately entwined in the art of the duo is still striking.
The frames are arranged in geometric patterns, and form shapes which add to the singular nature of the works. From afar, I can see mosaics, and unexpectedly, a martini glass which rebounds perfectly with the central theme of the narrative. The Drinking Pieces series comprised of works entitled Swaying, Falling, Toy Wine and The Glass, show the artists celebrating their first ever sale in 1970 at the Balls Brothers Wine Bar in Bethnal Green, London. The shots are blurry, at times capturing the shadows of faces drinking and smoking, at other times enhancing the traces of glasses over the artists’ faces. As in their real life, nothing seems rehearsed, yet Gilbert & George have the ability to get through to the viewer via familiar sceneries and emotions. They appear in almost all of their works, and these photographs are no exception. Together they create an ever larger distance between seriousness and rigor by dressing up in smart suits and drinking to the point of getting drunk. This is perhaps this contrast which appeals to the photographs, and it seems even more in the projection of their Video Sculptures.
Three videos A Portrait of the Artists as Young Men, In the Bush, and Gordon’s Makes Us Drunk dating from 1973-1975 appear above the fireplace, in between two used chairs, a narrow table, and a smashed liquor bottle used in the making of the last video. All of the projections highlight the signature of the duo, either walking, standing or repeating the same motion over and over again, and in the background a simple melody or the sound of birds chirping. The repetitiveness, the attaching personality of the characters and the actions they perform are captivating. Although intense, and rapid actions are almost non-existent, their idiosyncratic vision of life exaggerated by the universe they dwell in, dictates me to keep watching, even if I can feel that I am being dragged along, as no downfall will end the performance. Therefore, I wait and I wait, and as I linger around the two chairs where Gilbert and George have sat, I appreciate the video at the time during which it was conceived.
What was the reaction of the public when they first watched this “Video Art” like the artists entitled them? From a means so simple and ungraspable as images and sounds, I find fascinating how the duo have extracted the right amount of artistic essence, if I can call it that, and presented it in its purest form while the audience keeps watching. Both Gilbert and George have a synergy, a manner to choreograph their art which is almost ballet-like. Movements, even normal actions such as drinking or walking, instantly enter another level of fantasy, allowing me to penetrate the art and wonder for a moment in company of the two artists, in an ode to celebrating imagination.
Gilbert and George: Drinking pieces and video sculptures 1972-1973 at Thaddaeus Ropac (28 April – 29 July 2017)