Living and working on Fournier Street in Spitafields since the 1970s, Gilbert and George have become part of the local scenery of East London. They don’t have a kitchen in their home (also used as their studio), preferring a daily routine of eating out at their favorite local restaurants in Hackney, always immaculately dressed in their uniform of conservative tweed suits. Often described as ‘Living Sculptures’, their entire body of work has been created in London.
According to George, “Nothing happens in the world that doesn’t happen in the East End.” Contemporary London has always been a crucial element in their work, to the extent that the duo have spent the last six years pilfering the headline billboard posters from outside newsagents. Allured by headlines describing ‘Tube Torture’, ‘Holloway Cat Burglar Caught’, ‘Dodgy Heroin Kills Three’ and ‘N7 Man Faces Gunshot Charge’, the accumulation of stolen billboards has formed the basis of the artists new exhibition London Pictures at the White Cube galleries north (Hoxton Square), south (Bermondsey), west (Mason’s Yard) and east (Hong Kong).
The show reports the crime, violence and newsworthy events that have made the headlines, from the mainstream press to the local papers in East london, comprising of 292 pictures based on the 3712 stolen newspaper-sellers’ posters. Each piece is composed of panels containing one headline each, grouped together according to common words or phrases such as “KILLED” and “HOOKER.” The headlines are superimposed on pictures of the artists wearing ties imprinted with London street maps. They hover behind the events of urban life like passive witnesses staring out to the viewer. Images of London’s bricks, streets, homes and net curtains provide the backdrop to the scene.
The works highlight a society fixated with money, sex and death. In the same vain as Andy Warhol’s 1960s Disaster series, the repetition of these headlines shouting at the reader render them banal and meaningless. They are merely yesterdays news; quickly forgotten. Light relief is only stumbled upon when reading ‘Holloway Cat Burglar Caught’ and ‘Search for Naked Mystery Reveler’.
The exhibition is a spectacle of human actions and events in headlines. Overwhelming and ambitious it deals with the harsh realities of everyday life, the bits we take notice of and the details we decide to ignore.