I’ve been doing a lot of research on manifestoes for a secret project and a lot of interesting statements of being have presented themselves.
One of the most interesting is a little work by British art duo Gilbert & George, multi-talented guys who cross multiple disciplines but work primarily as outwardly austere visualized performers intent on mirroring. Their manifesto was the 1969 The Laws Of Sculptors. This was their first effort to claim an approach to art and, in many ways, a way to look at life. The four-pointed system goes as such.
1. Always be smartly dressed, well groomed relaxed friendly polite and in complete control.
2. Make the world believe in you and to pay heavily for this privilege.
3. Never worry assess discuss or criticize but remain quiet respectful and calm.
4. The Lord chisels still, so don’t leave your bench for long.
Look good, be confident, watch out, and rest easy: a great way of being.
A lot of this, I would assume and not, has to do with being gay. The two artists are not only both attracted to men but are a couple, something that they have played with throughout the years, framing their practice around this fake and their open dislike of the term. They are very clearly a couple yet they love to deny any coupling is happening. (Whether or not this is coupled with their conservatism is neither here nor there: it all just is and likely is a part of their post-modern court jesting.)
This way of being out in the world, in art, for nearly fifty years has brought on a lot of different encounters, a lot of which has to do with that sculpture of their life. A 2014 interview with the two via The Telegraph notes how being out enough in a liberal world like art got them treated a certain way.
Then there is what they call the “anti-gay thing”, something they believe is as prevalent in the art world as everywhere else. They talk about how the art critic Waldemar Januszczak once referred to them as “fruity gays in suits”. “Mind you, he’s Polish,” says Gilbert. “And they’re all anti-gay.” But recently attitudes towards them have changed – again prompted by their retrospective at the Tate in 2007. “All these people were there going, ‘Oh, marvellous,’ ” George recalls. “And I said, ‘But don’t you remember you said this work was hopelessly childish 20 years ago?’ They went, ‘Oh no, I’ve always loved it!’ It’s what we’ve always said: art stays the same, but the world around it changes.”
As any queer of a certain age will echo, the queers have always been queer – it just took a bit of time for the world to get the memo.
It’s refreshing to hear this, particularly as we pursue creation often without any wider recognition or understanding. You can pinpoint this back to their aesthetics and manifesto too. Look good, be confident, watch out, and rest easy: it’s not something people readily come to and, yes, they’ve always abided by it. Perhaps this is a gay chicken-or-egg thing: did they make the change or did the change make them? We’ll never know but what we do know is that they declared this attitude in the late 1960s and are still sticking with it.