Sunday, November 23, 2003

Tim Noble & Sue Webster


Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Dirty White Trash (With Gulls), 1998

Tim Noble & Sue Webster are famous for working with trash. They are famous for other things too, like getting on TV and telling an old couple to fuck off (on the life-swap programme ‘Living with the Enemy’), or for wearing leather jackets and looking like pop stars. As you might expect, lots of art people don't take too well to this kind of thing - their work was dismissed in many quarters as shallow gimmickry and over-simple attention seeking. "This is rubbish!" you imagine the oldster traditionalists screaming, arms thrown in the air in affected outrage, "is this what Art has become?" Of course, they have lots of fans too, who admire them for their faux-punk attitudes and take-no-shit style. Tim & Sue are second generation yBa's, shameless self-promoters, ligging and ad-libbing their way to success - one of their first notable pieces ("Hijack", 1994) was a series of fly-posters featuring their faces plastered over those of Gilbert & George accompanied by the words "Tim Noble, Sue Webster, The Simple Solution".

Forever, 2001

Tim and Sue operate using the language of trash and glamour, pop culture, neon, and kitschy romance. Their main body of work is built on their shadow sculptures – piles of everyday refuse painstakingly organised to cast detailed shadow self-portraits against the gallery wall. It’s an impressive craft. They also make neon signs, like Tracey Emins, but bigger and more Vegas. At PS1 their neon piece, spelling out the word “Forever”, dominated an entire room with its flickering blue-purple-red rhythmic pattern. There’s a kind of sentimentality about this work that is offset by the possibilty of it being ironic in some way. Forever how? Forever until someone takes the plug out when the exhibition comes down?

Dollar Sign, 2001
There’s another neon piece in the shape of a ‘$’. It’s attractive, casting pretty light shapes onto the walls of the darkened space. It resists any immediate interpretation because of the ubiquity and blandness of the dollar symbol. It might not be the most revealing piece of work, but the tension between the attractice flashing lights and their possible meaninglessness is hypnotic. It holds your gaze even though you think maybe it's a bit shallow and simplistic. You can't help liking it as you walk away thinking "so what?"

"The New Barbarians" is a sculpture, from ages ago. It was conceived by Tim and Sue but the actual making was done by other people. This may really get some people's goat if they don't understand that having ideas and making them happen is an essential part of being an artist, regardless of whether you physically make anything. But maybe these kind of people would like 'The New Barbarians' anyway because it looks like a nice, well-made sculpture. The idea is simple. Two neanderthal figure amble towards you, naked, over-long arms dangling at their side. Their faces look like a Duane Hanson sculpture of Tim and Sue - that is, clearly recognisable but malformed to look odd.

The New Barbarians, 1997-99

The New Barbarians represent humans as crude, basic, animalistic, curious... they deflate the arrogance of the 'paragon of animals' view of humanity. But at the same time, these Barbarians are touching, walking out together, naked and brave. They are semi-formed, simplified creatures. This piece was made between 1997-99 - perhaps this is Tim and Sue's pre-millenial gesture, humanity walking onward in curiousity and ignorance. I can't help wondering if this work will be remembered in a few years as great, iconic art that really spoke of its time, or as the arse end of the yBa hype. I hope it's the former - beneath their deceptively flippant ego act, Tim and Sue are making some fascinating stuff.

© John Brainlove 2003

Tim Noble and Sue Webster at PS1 October 12 – December 29, 2003
P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, 22-25 Jackson Ave at the intersection of 46th Ave in Long Island City, 11101, New York

T: 718 784 2084

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