Exercise: Watch a contemporary artists video

This was an exercise I had heard about through other students and I was a little nervous in truth about it – I am not known to be a fan of contemporary art although I have come to understand it and appreciate it particularly because my own textile studies mean that technically that is what my own work may be classed as in the future!

The course material directs me to a website with 50 great art videos and the very first one is the one I have chosen – Gillian Wearing and her creating of hyper-realistic masks.  I never got any further in looking the website because Gillian’s process fascinates me for a very personal reason – I had to have a mask made for a course of radiotherapy due to a rare head and neck cancer.

Gillian Wearing explores identity through the wearing of mask in some of her work –  even for a very shy person a mask can project a very different personality and many people often talk about wearing a mask which gives the world an impression that they are happy when sad or feeling OK when in fact they are feeling very ill physically.  Her video work also explores the difference between private or public lives or individual or collective experiences as in private we may act very differently to how we are in public – the wearing of the ‘mask’ in public that projects a very different image to how we are with our more intimate friends and family.  The work that Gillian does through the use of video and photography human life and she herself describes her work as ‘editing life’ (www.tate.org.uk).

In the process of making a mask Gillian may have a cast made of her own face in the same expression that she wants to make say the one of her own sister if she intends to wear it herself.  In addition Gillian has a team of sculptors, painters and wig makers she works with to create each mask – each one takes approximately 4 months to complete and they are works of art in their own right.

So what did I make of the video?  ‘bizarre’ was my first reaction but then one of intrigue.  Gillian’s skill lies in the hyper-realistic masks and also the fact that when people speak to her they can be honest to the point of almost brutality – by shuffling the identities and mannerisms of what you see on screen means it can be quite disconcerting to watch as I discovered.  The video concentrates on a daughter and a mother speaking about her mother or her sons but in the guise of the mother or 2 sons … literally the voices and the people have been swapped around. The anecdotes that are about filial cruelty are very difficult to watch particular as I am a mother myself to two sons and a daughter!

I found the video fascinating because it confuses your perceptions – you expect an adult woman’s voice to come from the mother or the voice of either son from the boys but you get the opposite and in this way I understand Gillian’s fascination with exploring identity and how we make assumptions due to the mask or how a person looks.

For me watching the video, although not about the actual process of how she makes a mask or goes about her photography or filming, makes sense of her work far better than the articles I read – it makes the work real and visual in a way words do not always manage to convey.  By watching a video you get a sense of what intrigues or interests Gillian and it comes down to exactly what her work is about.

Before I watch the video I was nervous about the exercise and had put it off for a few days and am intrigued to watch more and feel this could be something that really enriches my textile work in the future as well as my studies of art history which will continue long after the completion of this module.


Flavorpill Media. 2016. 50 Great Works of Video Art That You Can Watch Online [online]. [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from: http://flavorwire.com/399191/50-great-works-of-video-art-that-you-can-watch-online

Guardian. 2012.  Gillian Wearing takeover: behind the mask – the Self-Portraits [online]. [Date Accessed:  November 2016]. Available from:  https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2012/mar/27/gillian-wearing-takeover-mask

Mills, E. 2014. Behind the mask:  Gillian Wearing RA [online]. [Date Accessed:  Novemer 2016].  Available from: https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/gillian-wearing-vincent-award

Tate.  (date unknown). Gillian Wearing OBE born 1963 [online]. [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from:  http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/gillian-wearing-obe-2648

The Guardian. 2012.  Gillian Wearing takeover: behind the mask – the Self-Portraits [online]. [Date Accessed:  November 2016]. Available from:  https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2012/mar/27/gillian-wearing-takeover-mask

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