Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh
There’s something quite unnerving watching the three films that form the oldest contribution to this mini retrospective of Brit-Art’s most enduring double act. Here they are, in grainy black and white, young men still in their twenties, but already suited and booted in post-war accountant chic and co-opting the iconography of Empire that subverts the politesse of the English establishment even as it flirts with its arcane protocols.
Some forty years after the knowingly Joycean referencing ‘A Portrait of the Artists as Young Men’ depicted the timeless looking couple not so much as still lives but ones in slow motion, the post bomb culture torpor they both preserve and channel through their (in)activity looks as archaic as the idyllic gin-o-clock ritual of ‘Gordon’s Gets Us Drunk’ and the ‘By Appointment’ seal that trails each film.
Only in the 1980s do they embrace the day-glo world outside where they can nestle next to pretty boys in ‘Existers’ looking like the indulgent grand-daddies of east London queer culture, while it takes until 1991’s ‘Faith Drop’, the most recent work on show, for the suits to come off completely in order for G and G to get naked and back to nature, their Mr Chomedledly-Warner style celluloid exploits grainy remnants of a wasteland long since past.
This bite-size primer is part of the third Artists Rooms series that forms ‘What You See Is Where You’re At’s rolling programme culled from the National Gallery of Scotland and Tate collections. G and G’s image is present in most works bar the cartoon blow-job and adjacent ejaculatory spurts of ‘Hunger’ and ‘Thirst’ respectively, and ‘Fallen Leaves.’ This latter piece features the sort of weather-beaten tramp who might have stepped from the pages of ‘The Speakers,’ poet Heathcote Williams’ study of some of the eccentrics who gathered at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. Here, the tramp is tinged with the exotic allure that British colonialism in turns both fetishised and demonised. Like the provocatively amused young men in ‘Existers’, outsiders all, he stares defiantly back at the camera while England dreams on.
The List, August 2010