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Gillian Wearing – Whitechapel
May 3, 2012
Having recently seen Gillian Wearing’s thought provoking exhibition, it has left me in a thoughtful mood.
Most of her work practice has always centered around personal identity and the juxtaposition of our personality; what lies in the public domain and what is private or secret behaviour. Fly on the wall documentaries feature, allowing the viewer to see what lies ‘beneath the mask’. She has cleverly brought these issues to the forefront using the recurring theme of masks to release often suppressed elements or disguised personalities to see the ‘true self.’ Viewers are invited into private viewing booths, which give a sense of intimacy and trust. Disguised people use the prop of a mask as a means to bare their poignant childhood experiences in a series called ‘Trauma’ (2000).
Wearing is interested not in what people say but more what they don’t say. A gallery is dedicated to one of her most famous works; a selection of photographs of the public who were invited to write on a board entitled, ‘signs that say what you want them to say and not what someone else wants you to say,’ (1992-93).
It made me further contemplate something that has always intrigued me within fashion. Theorists have long been curious about fashion and the way we adorn ourselves. Clothing ourselves acts as a means of expression or something to hide behind. It is like come fashion week we shed our previous skin and adopt a new one. Indeed it offers escapism, personal expression, personality and the chance of people seeing us with rose coloured glasses. Sometimes it is necessary in order to project the person we aspire to be. It is natural that everyone wants to project the ‘better version’ of themselves but what happens when this is a stark contrast to the person we actually are underneath, when the glasses come off and our cracks appear? It is not the reaction from others that is the most damaging but our own. When we look at ourselves in the mirror warts and all….do we still love ourselves or does the hate and self – loathing creep in?
Gillian Wearing runs till the 17th June at The Whitechapel Gallery
Words by Helen Spencer