I enjoyed seeing the Gillian Wearing retrospective at The Whitechapel on Friday afternoon. I knew Gillian in the early 90’s, pre Turner Prize and she casually asked me and some other female friends to take part in a staged video piece ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing'(95) that involved me being filmed wearing a flowery dress and blowing in to a coke bottle filled with water, all in the name of art! I haven’t actually seen the final piece and been curious over the years to see what she ended up doing with the footage & whether the musical note I produced blowing across the top of the bottle ever made the final cut! I was hoping it may have been included in this show but the curation excellently focuses on her most well-known video and photographic works. It’s an emotionally charged and some times challenging exhibition and the intensity may take its toll but I was inspired by the balance she creates in her work being both political and poetic, focusing on the traumatised but also having the ability to find the ironic and extraordinary in us all.
I also got to see Gillians first full length documentary feature ‘Self Made’, that was exclusively screened at the gallery on Friday evening. Gillian chose a handful of individuals who responded to an ad to take part in a method acting workshop to explore their lives in a series of tableau’s. Watching it feels a bit like group therapy, with the characters breaking down and talking about their troubles. But this is done in a creative and thought-provoking way, that on top of being a totally frank and honest look at their lives, it becomes constructive and compelling to watch. One of the participants, Lian for instance, sets up her “end scene” as Act 1 from Shakespeare’s King Lear. Her performance as Cordelia, who will not pander to an attention-seeking father but remains honest and true. Considering Lian had never acted before, I thought it was a commendable theatre performance. I think the film is worthy of a cinema release which would be quite a move for a genre which has its comfort zone so firmly rooted in television. Michael Moore and a few others have made the leap into ‘reality cinema’ but I don’t think anybody has taken it as far as Wearing has in this film.