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The NS Interview: Gilbert and George

"Being a Conservative in the art world is like saying you're a Nazi"

Your new series, London Pictures, uses Evening Standard bill posters. Why has there been this shift in your work towards being more about London and less about you?

Gilbert The posters were the most important subjects; we didn't want our image to take over.
George It's difficult to compete with the text.

Is it their sensationalism that appeals to you?
Yes, they're sensationalist, but when it says "Man dies on Tube" that's what happened. If you go home and find all your family have been raped and the house is burned down, you can't sensationalise that.
Gilbert Or "Body found in bag".

Those posters are dying out now since the Standard has gone free.
We didn't realise when we started. We only collected them because we are fascinated by these little stories that are so gripping - every day a new one. They disappear all the time; the next day they are meaningless. But here we are able to fix them and look back for a second and feel what it means.

Was the fact you had to steal them integral?
Very important - it made us feel part of the subject. The danger, the thrill, the adrenalin.

Do you like the current British art scene?
It's fantastic - never were there so many living artists making a living, thanks to the free- market economy. We came out of socialism; the baby artists came out of the Thatcher generation. They don't like that, but they did.
Gilbert Because she deregulated everything, so they could become rich, the artists, for the first time. Before that they had to be art-school teachers mostly. Now London's the centre of the art world and the public take a huge interest, too.

So you celebrate the popularising of art?
It's not so much populism. We made an experiment when we were baby artists walking all the way through London and asking people toname a living artist. Nobody could. They knew a living murderer, sportsman, politician, skater, boxer, anything. Now everyone knows the name of aliving artist . . .

How do you square admiring Thatcher with being called the most controversial duo in art?
She's very controversial.
Gilbert But saying you were Conservative was like committing suicide in the art world . . .

Back in the 1980s?
Even now in the art world it's like saying you're a Nazi fighter pilot. We don't understand that, because you can discuss left or right or Labour and Conservative with waiters or taxi drivers - but not in the art world.
Gilbert And now, that world is all based on capitalism anyway. Only the rich can buy art!
George Our viewpoint is more honest.

You go to the same restaurant in the East End every evening. What do you have to eat?
The same thing every night. Two chops.
Gilbert Kebabs.

Do you enjoy celebrity, and being recognised?
Yes, because we've created an image and the public can deal with that. They like that.
George It's not intrusive. If you're a newsreader, it's murder - you cannot go to the shops for anything. With us, it's different: people are very respectful.

You've said if forced to, you'd have sided with the bankers against the St Paul's protesters. Is that position in itself a subversive one?
No, it's very simple - if you're going to have lunch, serve a dozen oysters and bottle of Chablis, not a nut roast and an organic cider!

And did you go to the Occupy camp?
We might have been past it a couple of times . . . It reminded us too much of '68. They look like hippies as well. And - they are middle class, not poor people.

Have you ever felt involved in gay politics?
We have a special, subversive way to work that is even more powerful. We were a same-sex couple for long enough and they changed the law on civil partnerships. I'm sure we were a small part of that. Not because we said something about it: we did it by example.

You've had a civil partnership. Would you be in favour of full marriage for gay people?
We are anti-church. Anti-religion.
George But I can see that a lot of gay people might want to get married in church as a revenge on the bloody vicars. You don't like it - but you're obliged by law to marry us!

Do you vote?
I've never voted in my life.
George I do, Gilbert doesn't.

Are we all doomed?
It's funny, we always used to play this joke. George would speak into a big vase . . .
George "We're aaaaaall dooooomed, we're aaaaaall dooooomed . . ."

Interview by Thomas Calvocoressi

At White Cube galleries until 12 May

Thomas Calvocoressi is a sub editor at the New Statesman and writes about visual arts for the magazine.

This article first appeared in the 26 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Mission impossible