Gillian Wearing: Rock ‘n’ Roll 70: Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University
Using the latest technologies including artificial intelligence, Gillian Wearing (b. 1963) explores the nature of aging and self-representation in the contemporary world. Subjecting one of the oldest art historical genres, self-portraiture, to digital manipulation through age-processing tools, Wearing invites collaborators to imagine what she might look like 20 years in the future. The result is a site-specific installation covering the wall of the Moody’s Central Gallery with photographic portraits of the artist that have been digitally aged by others and installed as Wallpaper. Each unique portrait highlights the unpredictability of time as it impacts our physical development, while the repeating pattern of portraits underscores the nature and complexity of digital reproduction.
Known for her intimate explorations of personal histories through photography and film, Wearing explores nuances of identity and self-representation. Given the contemporary conflation of public and private space enabled by phone-based cameras, how do we conceive of our public versus our private selves? How are our identities fundamentally shaped and mediated through technology? Is our deepest sense of self internally or externally generated? In the current age of social media, these questions are more relevant than ever.
Wallpaper is complimented by a framed triptych: Rock ‘n’ Roll 70 features a self-portrait of the artist at age 50, an enhanced image of herself at age 70, and a blank space to be completed by a self-portrait when Wearing turns 70 in 2033. The artist’s own imagining of her future self is superimposed on the speculation of others, creating a layered rendering of the biological and psychological effects of the future.
The high definition film Wearing, Gillian (2018), presented in the Media Gallery, extends the issues explored in Rock ‘n’ Roll 70 to the moving image. Collaborating with the advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, the artist invited various participants to digitally superimpose her face on their bodies. The result is a hybrid portrait of individuals literally and metaphorically speaking through the artist. In the age of internet memes, Wearing explores how digital shape shifting affects our identities and the implications of the sustained imposition of technology in our daily lives.