The Wild Brothers

Dinos und Jake Chapman

They are the wildest pair of brothers in London’s art scene. They shock and provoke, disregarding all taboos. Dinos (born in 1962) and Jake Chapman (1966) were the most celebrated students to be promoted in the late 1980s by the notorious artist Damian Hirst in the context of the now legendary “Freeze” exhibition in London. The notion of Young British Artists (YBA) was coined then, and has been causing a furore worldwide ever since. Supported and sponsored by Charles Saatchi, the polarising advertiser and grand mogul of the British art scene, Jake and Dinos have maintained their reputation for controversy. One of their most recent shockers, an installation entitled “Hell,” used 30,000 little tin figures in Nazi uniforms, arranged in numerous glass cases, to depict atrocities and apocalyptic war scenarios. The figures maul themselves, their entrails flow from their bodies, and ravage one another — all in miniature format. It would be difficult to dramatise human violence more cynically. The Chapmans became known mainly for their mannequin-style figures — which are, however, anything else but pretty or aesthetically pleasing. For depicted here — or rather deformed — are little girls. The children are naked, their crotches deformed by masculine genitalia growing explosively from their bodies, bursting from their ears. Their faces are sexualised, their mouths transmuted into labia, their expressions un-childlike, strange. These brats are the products of our own world, yet are simultaneously alien. Are these pederastic fantasies, or a critique of the commercialisation and sexualisation of contemporary society? The works lend themselves to polarization, just like everything the brothers use to taunt their audience. Moral boundaries are continually called in question. Horror and comedy are united in the most grotesque manner.
The brothers attracted special attention in 2003 with their nomination for the Turner Prize, the most important art world honour. Approximately 20 original etchings by Goya — a precious art historical treasure — were mistreated by the Chapmans. Goya had depicted intimate scenes between man and wife, family scenarios that were the perfect grist for the mills of these artists of disfiguration. The Chapmans drew their versions directly into the originals, manipulating and defacing the etchings for their own purposes. In addition, they constructed a bestial installation in the exhibition hall, one modelled on a Goya print. Bodies were tossed over a dead tree, human beings treated as mere stuff, discarded, superfluous, doomed. The art world raised a hue and cry, but that changed nothing. In the end, the Chapmans failed to win the coveted prize. But it has been a long time since they needed prizes. Their work has been shown worldwide and showered with awards. But they have kept their feet on the ground, remaining friendly and devoid of arrogance.
How, you might like to know, could a pair of nice boys like this invent such ghastly scenarios, and why would they want to inflict them on their viewers? What motivates them? From whence this drive to deal with violence and traumatic scenes? How does the pair view the development of terrorism and the debates around it? Just how do they perceive the world in which they live?

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