November 24, 2020

Gert & Uwe Tobias, Maureen Paley, London

When I get to Maureen Paley in Bethnal Green for the last day of Gert & Uwe Tobias’ exhibition there is only me, and a couple with a bicycle wheel each, in the gallery. I have come to see the solo exhibition of the Transylvanian twins after seeing their woodcuts in the Saatchi Gallery’s Gesamtkunstwerk exhibition.
 
The Tobias brothers work with a number of traditional media, almost abandoned to the folklore of artistic practice; woodcuts, typography and ceramics. But although they have honoured the luxury of all these techniques there is nothing more certain at Maureen Paley than their contemporaneity.  The colours they print with are almost like nothing I have ever seen before, but remind me of the photocopy foil, Omnicrom. A typewriter is hammered at obsessively to make a typographic portrait  which recalls, but is distinctly more eloquent than, a piece of computing code. Totemic ceramic creatures are enshrined in gallery corners or hanging from the ceiling.

The twins have described their work as having an ‘opulence’, indeed, even the dusky-dark portraits look as though they could be salvage from a water-damaged old stately home.  But the opulence is really in the magnificent stretches of woodcut canvases; an opulence of labour, of colour (which does not belong to paint, but to  the richer otherworldly texture of printing), of patterned gold leaf and of the fabulous creatures of imagination and myth.

The sense of play is important. I watch a video interview on Youtube where the cutting of the footage deliberately distorts our ability to distinguish between the identical pair. There is no sense of their individuation; one twin works on the left of the studio, the other on the right. Like conspiring children, the Tobias Twins delight in the labyrinthine twists and turns of their own game.

It may not be immediately obvious, but the Tobias twins have even manipulated the gallery space; painting the walls a rich, magnificent blue, with white lines which divide woodcuts and picture frames.

In the collages new beings and unidentifiable narratives are created from the assemblage of kitschy cut-outs. There is a phantasmagoria of repeating imagery; duck beaks, bird heads, moths and other insects, pendulous limbs and heads. If there seems to be a plot to follow in the giant story boards of their woodcuts, the viewer is unable to trace it because of its disorientating unfamiliarity.

How delicious, for a pair of identical Transylvanian twins to make work about folklore and myth. Suddenly it is possible to believe in dark woods in the mountains of Brasov, Romania, where vampires live and little girls in red caps lure wolves back to their grandmothers. I desperately want to find a book of fairytales illustrated by Gert & Uwe Tobias at the end of the exhibition; perhaps it is this longing which is the lingering symptom of their art work.  I want in on their world. No matter how nightmarishly atmospheric, there is an enchanting beauty beneath the surface.

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