Forever it has been fashionable to profile people. Especially unordinary people who do things to make our simple lives turn. From bee-keepers and embalmers, to burlesque dancers and street artists, they are curious people who will never receive a full biography. The style of editing is dry and sharp. Beginning mundane and chronological: “I’m up every day at 6.20. I shower, dress and drink a Roibos tea. I don’t eat breakfast. I leave at 7 and take the shortcut to the bus stop.” Starkly it then zigzags: “The bodies i prepare smell like brickwork warmed by the sun.” or, “Nipple tassels hurt more than you think”. Exiting the article you feel as if you know beekeepers better, you measure their contentment, and you will decide if you would like to be them. or remain you. This tension lies at the heart of people stories. If we just got inside other people’s heads, we can solve ourselves. Feel better or feel worse about who we are, and what we do.
Showing people telling their stories: of love, of pain, of inadequacy, of lostness, Turnerite Gillian Wearing claims, “I’m always trying to find ways of discovering new things about people, and in the process discover more about myself”. So she works to open people up. Her photographs and films explore the unravelling as the inner self becomes the public self. Invited to confess or write their inner thoughts down, we find not the words people say (none of it is unaware), but the words people choose to share.
“I don’t really know who me is”, says a 14 year old lip-synched through the face of a middle-aged man. (“10-16”, 1997) , in the midst of his story of drinking beer to be more a man. “My grip on life is rather loose” , selects a confident woman. “I’m desperate”, from a man in a suit. “Help” is the smiling black policeman. He is the poster for the exhibition. Telling us it’s got relevance today. That we walk around feeling differently inside than what we show outside. There is nothing romantic in Wearing’s People. There are a lot of lost souls who don’t find comfort in confession. Perhaps because they are displayed behind masks, either their own or real ones she puts on their faces.
A lot her works are 10-20 years old. They are not for now, or about now. We are told that the narrative is one of confession. After a lot of reality television (verses the early phenomena Wearing must have witnessed in the making of her works), confessions have become a daily noise. And in The Whitechapel Gallery, the walls between the singular films are thin enough to ensure a cacophony of chorused anxiety. Looped anxiety as each confession goes round and round. It’s anti-herd – we do not feel the same about the same things. And we leave knowing this is a society of individuals. Not of communities. What you think inside is very very individual. How un-2012.
The Gillian Wearing exhibition at The Whitechapel Gallery continues until Mid-June.