View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Untitled is one of a set of three lithographs produced by Robert Gober in 2000 during his first collaboration with the Los Angeles print publisher, Gemini G.E.L. It exists as part of an edition of fifty, of which this print is number eight. The lithograph depicts a man's outstretched hand punctured, stigmata-like, by a drain. The aperture of the drain reveals a black bottomless hole. The grid of a sewer cover is tentatively indicated in the background of the lithograph. This print revisits one of the major iconographic themes of Gober's work of the last two decades: the drain. In a 1990 interview, he said: 'I thought of the drains as metaphors functioning in the same way as traditional paintings, as a window into another world. However, the world that you enter into through the metaphor of the drain would be something darker and unknown.' (Robert Gober, 1993, p.9.)
Gober is known primarily as a sculptor and installation artist whose reconfigured domestic artefacts, such as sinks, urinals, playpens, cots and doors, result in hauntingly beautiful yet disturbing works of art. The homeliness of these familiar objects belies their dysfunctional realisation. The doors do not actually lead anywhere, while the playpens and cots seem unable to sustain their verticality. His sinks and urinals from the 1980s had no plumbing pipes or drains and so embodied a kind of idealised abnormality. Drains, however, appeared prolifically in unexpected locations: they were embedded into tables and walls (Drains 1990, Tate T06659) and they penetrated his cast wax body fragments. As with the earlier sinks, the motif of the drain uses a simple element of domestic architecture to evoke the intimate bodily process of personal hygiene. The drain-punctured palm of Gober's lithograph specifically suggests hand washing, a frequent focus for obsessive anxiety about hygiene. Here the hand is destined to be forever polluted by its union with the drain itself. Cleansed palm and sewer are umbilically linked. The grid of the sewer cover which appears in the background of the print alludes to Gober's macabre Untitled 1993-94 installation. In 1994 at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York, Gober buried a male torso made of wax under a heavy bronze sewer cover that had been set into the gallery floor. The torso was similarly punctured by a drain in addition to being surrounded by flowing water.
Almost all of Gober's works refer, however obliquely, to domesticity, childhood or sexuality. The psychologically charged family home of one's infancy pervades his oeuvre. However, Gober strips domestic iconography of its usual associations with nurturing and refuge. Instead, the home is revealed to be a site of trauma.
Rites of Passage, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1995.
Robert Gober, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery Liverpool and Serpentine Gallery, London 1993.
Robert Gober: Sculpture + Drawing, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 1999.