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Artists Gillian Wearing

Gillian Wearing

British Conceptual artist, Filmmaker, Photographer, and Sculptor

Gillian Wearing Photo
Movements and Styles: Young British Artists, Conceptual Art

Born: December 10, 1963 - Birmingham, England

"If you ever make anything too literal you might as well forget it. It loses everything."

Summary

If you have ever logged on to social media and seen an image of someone holding a hand-written sign in front of them, proclaiming a truth or confession about themselves, then you will have seen the influence of Gillian Wearing. Aligned with the YBAs in the 90s in London, she rose to fame by inviting strangers on London streets to hold up a sign saying whatever was on their minds, and then photographing them.

Since Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say (1992 -3) the artist has produced unflinching documents of the masks that constitute our identities, personas and personal histories - often inviting strangers to volunteer their intimate stories to produce affecting, surreal, and emotive portrayals of internal lives.

Key Ideas

Confessional art is a type of contemporary art that focuses on intentional revelations of private lives, often showing controversial and intimate experiences and emotions as a way to provoke similar emotion, shock, or empathy, in a viewer. Unlike the majority of confessional artists (such as Louise Borgoise, Tracey Emin;, and Sophie Calle), Gillian Wearing's work solicits confessions from strangers as the core of her practice.
Her primary contribution to contemporary photography and filmmaking particularly is in her uneasy relationship with the medium itself - using photography and documentary to critique the claims to truth, authenticity, and memory, which are embedded in these media and processes.
One type of photograph that she often works with is the family photograph, which is recognisable as a shared personal historical document - often taking on the role of a physical manifestation of memory or experience. She challenges the validity of this document by restaging family photographs of herself as a child and teenager, as well as photographs of other family members, inserting herself into painstakingly realistic bodysuits in order to situate her real living body into these seemingly impenetrable, and safe archives.
The artist is strongly influenced by the sociology of Erving Goffman, author of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956), in which he claims that people adopt "front-stage and backstage personalities, that we perform all the time, when we walk down the street, when we go into a shop. And when we are behind closed doors we go into a bit of a slump". This philosophy informs much of Wearing's work around the public and the private, and 'real' and 'performed' versions of the self, which can be seen in her repeated use of masks, as well as her later dramaturgic strategies.
Gillian Wearing Photo

Wearing's childhood was spent in Birmingham, where she lived with her parents and two siblings. She grew up closer to her mother (whom she describes as "loving and supportive") than her father, writing of their relationship: "There was a little bit of separation between my parents, though they didn't divorce until many years later. But I didn't have the upbringing where I got to know [my father] that well."

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