iconic YBA gillian wearing on the performance of daily life
Gillian Wearing reflects on her just-closed exhibition at the National Gallery that continued her exploration of the masks we wear.
This article originally appeared in i-D's The Creativity Issue, no. 348, 2017.
Born in Birmingham, Gillian Wearing moved to London at 21, slipping from job to job and staying in hostels and squats. She ended up at Goldsmiths, graduating in 1990 and becoming aligned with the notorious YBA group. Her work was included in Saatchi's legendary Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy and she won the Turner Prize in 1996 for her video work 60 Minutes Silence.
Throughout her career, Gillian has explored notions of identity and subjectivity, public and private life, family history, and the limits of social convention. The initial series that propelled Wearing into the spotlight was Signs That Say What You Want Them to Say, in which she approached strangers on the street and photographed them holding a piece of paper that she had asked them to write one of their recent thoughts on. From there, she recruited strangers through advertisements and made a series of videos where individuals disguised in costume masks confessed their traumas, fears, or fantasies.
Gillian is intrigued about how our day-to-day routine is both a "performance and an unconscious script," explaining, "we are limited to how we are perceived by others. An actual mask takes you far away from that." And masks remain a key part of Wearing's practice; creating labor-intensive works in which she creates and wears the mask of family members or artistic inspirations. Going one step further, Wearing recently unveiled a wall of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery in which she has digitally aged and reimagined herself in a series of guises at the age of 70.
"Part of our experience of living now is to look at ourselves, over and over again," she states. "Recording and living are part of the same thing."
Text Philomena Epps
Photography Tim Walker
Styling Max Clark
Hair Cyndia Harvey at Streeters using Fudge Professional. Makeup Lucy Bridge at Streeters using using Chanel Les Indispensables de L'Été and Chanel Blue Serum. Masks (on cape) design Hatty Ellis Howard. Gillian wears cape Costume Studio. Skirt Margaret Howell. Tights Chantal Thomass. Mask Shona Heath