Gillian Wearing
United Kingdom, 1963
Gillian Wearing takes photographs and makes videos that capture the everyday lives of the common man or woman. However, although at first sight her process and results might seem to follow in the documentary tradition, Wearing actually turns the conventions of this genre on its head. Shortly after studying fine art, first at Chelsea School of Art and then at Goldsmiths’ College, both in London, Wearing had her first solo exhibition at the City Racing art space in 1993 entitled I’m desperate. The title came from a sign held by an anonymous, smartly dressed young man from the series of photographs entitled ‘Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say’ (1992-1993). In this work Wearing stopped passersby on the street and asked them to write down what was on their mind. She then photographed them holding their statement. The same format had already been used for a Volkswagen car commercial and another precedent can be found in the music video for Bob Dylan’s song Subterranean Homesick Blues in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary film Dont Look Back [sic] (1967). Nonetheless, the way it manages to combine a simultaneous sense of immediacy, intimacy and unmasking is entirely original. The people portrayed in her videos and photographs confess their inner thoughts under the protection of a mask or some other distortion: Wearing’s works reveal the multiple nature of individual identity. The series ‘Album’ (2003) focuses on the artist herself. Wearing employs makeup, props, and lighting to disguise herself in the visage of several of her relatives—father, mother, uncle, sister and brother—captured in old snapshots when they were young adults or teenagers. On the one hand, the different photographs reveal the similarity between members of the same family, while on the other, the sequence also shows the evolution of this kind of photography from a picture taken in a photographer’s studio (of her parents in the 1960s) to a snapshot of her elder brother taken in his room as he was getting ready to go out (1991). Wearing’s work stems from ideas on performativity, multiculturalism, fragmentation and/or proximity to the everyday lives of everyday people.
Neus Miró