• Gilbert & George, Animosity 2001
    Gilbert & George
    Animosity 2001

Few artists have scrutinised their own bodies as closely as Gilbert & George and, after examining their bodily fluids under a microscope, they may have reached a certain limit. In these pictures, made around the turn of the millennium, they re-engage with the city. The snarling message ‘We’re Back’ that appears in the second part of NINETEEN NINETY NINE can be seen as the artists staking their claim once more on the urban imagery of graffiti, anger, sex and decay associated with THE DIRTY WORDS PICTURES. The third part of the picture shows them in front of a large map that delineates the network of East End streets that represent their territory. They have often noted that every aspect of human life – the extremes of rich and poor, virtue and depravity – can be found within two hundred yards of Fournier Street. In this context, the samples of blood and piss suggest the traces typically found on a London street every morning.

‘In NINETEEN NINETY NINE, we included all the texts we’d collected but hadn’t yet used’, the artists have said. ‘Messages about things that were important in the last century, like territorial issues, sex… racial and political issues… All based on human frustrations.’ The anger of these messages is, if anything, more intense than the graffiti of 20 years earlier. ANIMOSITY, made in 2001, brings together fly-posted anarchist and Class War pamphlets gathered by the artists from the streets, while LOCKED combines religious imagery with threats and prohibitions.

This ongoing fascination with the language of the street led to a series called THE NEW HORNY PICTURES, in which the advertisements of hustlers are collected, codified and arranged in vast panoramas. NAMED, the picture included in this room, brings together the advertisements headed with a name. The texts illustrate a thriving economy of desire, in which a body and a willingness to perform sexual services are described like any other commodity offered for sale. Yet the picture is also oddly affirmative, like the recording of names on a war memorial that helps to stave off the threat of oblivion.