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All that Gilbert and George reveal is their own ignorance


It was a typical BBC set-up, two much-lauded artists taking on a fundamentalist preacher from the derided Irish Presbyterians. It should have gone so well, but ended up another car-crash interview.

The BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 25th January gave the collaborative artists Gilbert and George a platform to speak to the nation. Gilbert and George have made provocation their artistic purpose and they do it very successfully. ‘We have always had confrontational views of the world’, says Gilbert. It is this confrontational approach which has led to them being described as ‘national treasures’ by the cognoscenti.

It was a winning situation, but what the BBC forgot was that we can count on progressives. Give them a sympathetic audience and a seemingly unobstructed target and they will end up shooting themselves in the foot. Gilbert and George grasped the opportunity with all four hands and unleashed a stream of incoherent bile against any religious believers, especially Christians, demonstrating their intellectual vacuity in the process.

Scapegoating Pictures, an exhibition of art works by Gilbert and George, marking the 50th anniversary of their collaborative practice, opened yesterday at the Metropolitan Arts Centre in Belfast. Hugh Mulholland, senior curator at the MAC, describes the pair as ‘revolutionary’. Mulholland smugly points out in the exhibition blurb that Gilbert and George have always been proudly secular and anti-religion.

According to MAC’s description of the exhibition, ‘As always, Gilbert and George challenge our deep-seated preconceptions by acting as a mirror to society; provoking us to examine the world we live in – and our complicity in its chaos – in greater detail.’

The Rev David McIlveen of the Free Presbyterian Church, on the other hand, thinks the art works are objectionable, in some cases blasphemous, and a ‘perversion of thought’. He also objects to his taxes being used to subsidise the exhibition.

Amongst the art works mirroring society and intended to ‘challenge our deep-seated preconceptions’ are graffiti-esque slogans such as ‘S*** in The Pulpit,’, ‘Defecate at The Altar’, ‘Punch a Preacher,’ ‘F*** The Vicar’ and ‘Castrate The Clergy’. Nevertheless, Gilbert and George claim that ‘each of our pictures is a visual love letter’.

In Mr McIlveen’s opinion: ‘It doesn’t take an artist to draw some of the statements or to write some of the statements that have been made in this exhibition.’

To listen to this pair of ‘national treasures’ of the trendy and avant-garde is to realise how paltry progressives’ arguments can be. Gilbert and George trotted out the usual defences of the indefensible.

Firstly, they dismissed the objections by playing the ‘phobia’ card. Mr McIlveen’s objections were initially put down by Gilbert and George to ‘closet homophobia and Anglophobia’. They described Mr McIlveen’s statements as un-Christian, and the two men who presented the obscenity-laden graffiti to public exhibition also characterised him as ‘ungentlemanly’ and ‘un-British’.

When progressives accuse you of ‘homophobia’, ‘Islamophobia’, ‘transphobia’ etc, you know that they have no argument and are trying to shut you up. They are running away from debate.

The pair then employed the well-worn progressive objection that as the exhibition has not been opened at the time of broadcast Mr McIlveen has not ‘actually seen the pictures’. This is used whenever Christians object to a production blaspheming Christ or an art work. As if we had to subject ourselves to blasphemy in order to protest it.

Most of us haven’t actually read Mein Kampf, yet from what we know of the contents we are justified in regarding it as an objectionable book. Mr McIlveen might not have seen the graffiti but after reading of it in the press he is fully justified in considering it objectionable.

They then argued that ‘we don’t have any words in our pictures that are not in the Oxford Dictionary or the holy Bible’. This statement doesn’t make sense on any level. It would be exceedingly difficult to write anything without using words which can be found in the Oxford Dictionary or the Bible.

Employing the usual progressive tactic of projection, Gilbert stated: ‘They are all intolerant.’ The intolerant liberal is always quick to accuse any critics of ‘intolerance’. This is not so much an argument as a psychological problem.

The subterranean level of intellectual defence of their exhibition is characterised by their final statement concerning Mr McIlveen, that they had, ‘an amazing divine realisation, in his name the word evil appears’. Darlings of the avant-garde they may be but this form of argument should have been left behind in the primary-school playground.

The pair revealed themselves as profoundly confused about Christianity. Gilbert asserted they ‘are not religious’, adding ‘there is no God . . . ban religion is our motto’, and then went on to describe himself as a Catholic and argued that he and George were that rarity, Protestant and Catholic artists working in collaboration. In the view of the duo there is no illogicality here for in their estimation ‘we are all Greco-Romano Judeo-Christian secularist Christians’.

It is a bit like the joke about the wee Jew surrounded by a gang in Glasgow who demanded, ‘Are you a Pape or a Proddy?’ Breathing a sigh of relief he replied, ‘Neither, I’m a Jew.’ Only to be met with the response, ‘Aye, but are you a Papist Jew or a Proddy Jew?’

We can be sure that in other circumstances George and Gilbert would have had their collars felt by the local constabulary following this broadcast. If ‘Punch a Preacher’ is not an incitement to violence and a hate crime then we can only assume that the police are too busy hunting dead men accused of paedophilia and cracking down on rampant Islamophobia to bother about abuse of Christians.

However, ‘It’s art’ is a pretty safe get-out clause amongst progressives. Anything goes in the name of art, the more objectionable the better. Except, perhaps, cartoons of Mohammed.

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Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Campbell is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Stirlingshire. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.

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