Tim Noble and Sue Webster
British duo Tim Noble and Sue Webster entered the London art scene in the mid-1990s, just as Damien Hirst and others of the so-called "Young British Artists" were attracting increasing attention. Although the pair has remained at the periphery of the YBA group, their work reveals a fascination with the phenomenon of the artist as media-created celebrity. In Hijack (1994), they heralded their arrival through self-promotional posters in which they pasted their heads onto the bodies of the contemporary art world's most established artistic duo, Gilbert and George, and added the slogan "Tim Noble and Sue Webster: The Simple Solution." A similar interest in the mechanics of advertising is evident in their light signs, in which trite phrases such as "Forever" and "I love you" or simple dollar signs are spelled out in gaudy, casino-inspired, blinking electric lights. Influenced by the Punk movement of the 1970s, Noble and Webster are also capable of aggressive shock tactics, as in their 1999 work The New Barbarians. The work recreates a diorama of early humanoids from the Museum of Natural History in New York with the couple's faces transposed onto the naked primitive bodies. Although attention grabbing, the work forms a remarkably unflattering and antiheroic, even vulnerable, self-portrait.
Such unconventional self-portraiture lies at the crux of the series the couple is perhaps best known for, their shadow images. Carefully assembling seemingly random formations of ordinary junk or taxidermic animals and then lighting them from just the right angle, the artists achieve virtuoso likenesses in the resulting shadows. In some of the works, the shadows depict lighthearted, kitschy, or even romantic scenes that contrast sharply with the vulgar materials that create them: in a 1997 piece, a mound of discarded supermarket cartons and taxidermic seagulls is transformed into the couple seated back to back, cheerfully enjoying a glass of wine and a cigarette. Such pieces challenge our conventional notions of beauty, rehabilitating the detritus of society and turning it into something pleasing. The Guggenheim's work, Kiss of Death(2003), belongs to a group of decidedly darker and more macabre works. Here two clusters of taxidermic birds and rodents and animal bones create an image of Webster's and Noble's heads impaled on stakes, one of them gruesomely picked at by a crow. The illusion created is one of timeless, sublime horror, reminiscent of the work of Francisco Goya.