Art and Photography
Resources

 email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
1000 Families2 ¼32 Stories365 Days51 Months5x7A Child's Life and Other StoriesA Couple of Ways of Doing SomethingA Lifetime of SecretsA Storybook LifeA Treasury of Victorian MurderActing OutAddiction and ArtAEIOUAfter PhotographyAliveAlive with Alzheimer'sAlone Together POCAltered StatesAmazing WomenAmelia's WorldAmerica at HomeAmerican AlphabetsAmnesiaAn American LensAn Exact MindAngel's WorldAngry Youth Comix #2Anjos ProibidosAnthony GoicoleaArchitecture of AuthorityArt After Conceptual ArtArt and HomosexualityArt and PhotographyArt in Three DimensionsArt Photography NowArt, Self and KnowledgeArt/PornAs We AreAsylumAttitudeAutoportraitBecoming Edvard MunchBeg the QuestionBelugaBerkoBig Rabbit's Bad MoodBill HensonBlab!Blab! 13BLAB! Vol. 14BLAB! Vol. 15BlanketsBoneyardBoneyardBoy StoriesBreakdownsBright EarthBrüselBurn, Bitchy, BurnBus OdysseyBut Is It Art?CanvasCaricatureChildrenChris VereneChristy ReportCinema PanopticumClass PicturesClick DoubleclickCloserClumsyClyde Fans CoincidencesComing of AgeComing of Age in Ancient GreeceConceptual Art and PaintingConfessions of a Cereal EaterConsider LoveCouch FictionCrumpleCzech EdenCzech Photographic Avant-Garde, 1918-1948Dan & LarryDargerDays With My FatherDead EndDear MomDeus Ex MachinaDigital DiariesDirty StoriesDisasters of WarDixie RoadDomestic VacationsDon't Go Where I Can't FollowDon't You Feel BetterDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDrawingsDriftlessEcstasyEdouard VuillardEnduring CreationEngland, My EnglandEntering GermanyEpilepticErwin OlafEscape from "Special"EVAEverything Will DisappearEvidenceExploring the Self through PhotographyExposureExpressionism Exquisite CorpseFamilyFamilyFamily LifeFandomaniaFaster than a Speeding BulletFictionsFigure and GroundFragile DVDFred the ClownFreud at WorkFridaFrom Girls to GrrlzFun HomeGeneration DadaGirl CultureGirls, Some Boys and Other CookiesGood-ByeGraphic WomenGrave MattersH R GigerHans BellmerHappy Halloween, Li'L SantaHauntedHere Is New YorkHey, Wait...High Art LiteHollywood CowboyHouse of JavaI Am Not This BodyI Love You But I've Chosen RockI Thought I Could FlyI'll Be Your MirrorI'm CrazyIllumineIn My Darkest HourIn Search Of DignityIn the Floyd ArchivesIn the Line of DutyInformation ArtsIntenseInvisible No MoreIt Was A Dark And Silly NightJack Cole and Plastic ManJimmy CorriganJock SturgesJock SturgesJust Between UsKafkaKatharina SieverdingLacan at the SceneLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLife's a BitchLight in the Dark RoomLine of Beauty and GraceListening to CementLittle LitLi’l SantaLoadsLooking For MayaLost GirlLouis FaurerLouise BourgeoisLove and DesireLove Lust DesireLuckyManufactured LandscapesMass ObservationMaster BreastsMetacreationMisty DawnMnemosyneMomeMona KuhnMy Brain is Hanging Upside DownMy DepressionMy Family AlbumNatural BeautiesNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew and Used BLAB!New York September 11Night FisherNightswimmingNo More ShavesNotes from a DefeatistNothing ObviousNothing to HideNudes and PortraitsOliviaOlivia Saves the CircusOn City StreetsOne EyeOnly a Promise of HappinessOptic NerveOptic Nerve #11Optic Nerve #9Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers & PiratesOutsider ArtPanic at Toad HallPatrolPaul M. SmithPeculiaPeekPeople Love PhotosPerfect ExamplePersepolisPhilosophersPhonesexPhoto ArtPhoto Icons I (1827-1926)Photographers, Writers, and the American ScenePhotography and LiteraturePhotography and PhilosophyPhotography and SciencePhotography and the USA Photography RebornPicturing DisabilityPlaytimePOPismPostmodernismPsychedelicQuestions without answersRaptors Raw YouthRay's a LaughRazmatazReclining NudeRed SnowRemembering GeorgyRequisite DistanceRineke DijkstraRippleRobert Doisneau 1912-1994Robert MaxwellRoom to PlaySame Difference & Other StoriesSanctumSatan's Sex BookSatellitesSchizophreniaSee Me Feel MeSelf-Taught and Outsider ArtSexSexual ArtSexyBookShadow ChamberSidewalk StoriesSkin DeepSleepwalkSmall FavorsSmile of the BuddhaSpectral EvidenceSpentSshhhh!Stranded in CantonStrange Stories for Strange Kids Stranger PassingStripped BareSummer BlondeSurrealismSymbols in ArtTestimonyThe Aesthetics of DisengagementThe AlcoholicThe Art InstinctThe Art of Adolf WolfliThe Art of MedicineThe BabiesThe Birthday RiotsThe Blue Day BookThe Blue NotebookThe BodyThe Body as ProtestThe Boulevard of Broken DreamsThe Breast BookThe Breathing FieldThe Bristol Board JungleThe Clouds AboveThe Devil and Daniel JohnstonThe Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Education of SophieThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Face in the LensThe Illustrated Story of OThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Madonna of the FutureThe Mirror of LoveThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New LifeThe Other PlaceThe Philosophy of Andy WarholThe Places We LiveThe Psychology of Art and the Evolution of the Conscious BrainThe Push Man and Other StoriesThe Scar of VisibilityThe September 11 Photo ProjectThe Shiniest JewelThe Speed AbaterThe Steerage and Alfred StieglitzThe Story of Frog Belly Rat BoneThe Story of SexThe Stuff of LifeThe Three ParadoxesThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Transparent CityThe TravelersThe ValleyThe Van Gogh BluesThe Wolves in the WallsThe Yellow HouseThinThings as They AreThinking of YouTierney GearonTime and SilenceTina's MouthTits, Ass, and Real EstateTransitionTrauma and Documentary Photography of the FSATravelersTropical BlendTwentieth Century EightballTwilightUnlikelyVagina WarriorsVernacular VisionariesVietnam At PeaceVisual CultureVitamin PhWar Is Only Half the StoryWhat Are You Looking At?What Art IsWhat Good Are the Arts?What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally MannWho Am I, What Am I, Where Am I?William KentridgeWillie DohertyWithWriters on ArtistsYoung PhotographerZip Zip My Brain Harts

Related Topics
Mass ObservationReview - Mass Observation
by Gillian Wearing
Merrell Publishers, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Sep 8th 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 36)

Gillian Wearing is a British artist who works mostly in video. Born in 1963, she won the prestigious Turner Prize in 1997.  Mass Observation has been published to accompany an exhibition of the same name that will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago, October 2002 - January 2003 and at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Philadelphia, September - December 2003.  The book contains two essays, one by Dominic Molon, Associate Curator of the MCA, and the other by Barry Schwabsky author of The Widening Circle: Consequences of Modernism in Contemporary Art, along with 68 pages of plates from her work, an artist's biography and a bibliography of writing about Wearing. 

Wearing's work portrays people.  She is interested in how people live, how they present themselves, and what they think.  Her work presents people in unusual ways, upsetting normal expectations.  For example, here is Molon's description of the 4 minute piece from 1997, 2 into 1.

"In this work, a middle-aged mother, Hilary, and her two sons, Alex and Lawrence, lip-synch to recordings of one another's voices so that they seem to be describing themselves as the other sees them." (p. 16)

            Maybe her best known work is a series of photographs from 1992-93, Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say.  Ordinary people are pictured holding up signs containing their own words, written in their own hands.  An older man stands on a busy street squinting at the camera, his sign saying, "What is it?".  A young man in a suit and tie stands on a quiet street next to a doorway, his sign saying, "I'm desperate."  Equally gripping is Confess all on Video. Don't worry, you will be in disguise.  Intrigued?  Call Gillian, (1994) in which the participants in a 30 minute video tell the camera some of the bad things they have done.

            It's a shame that we are not able to view the videos, since the reader cannot get much sense of their power from still images.  This deficiency makes the book less interesting to potential purchasers.  The essays by Molon and Schwabsky are useful, writing thoughtfully about Wearing's work and providing a clear introduction to the artist. But they do not discuss all the work contained in the book, specifically leaving out a series of photographs titled A Woman Called Theresa from 1998.  Without explanation or context, these image leave the reader unnecessarily mystified as to their meaning. There is also no index, making it harder to find information about the works.

            Molon mentions that Wearing is influenced by important works of television documentary of British live, Franc Roddam and Paul Watson's 1974 series The Family and Michael Apted's series of documentaries starting with 7 Up (1964) (the most recent documentary in the series is 42 Up).  It's also helpful to compare Wearing to her British peer, Richard Billingham.  Billingham's book Ray's a Laugh showed his parents as they are in their everyday lives, in their difficult relationship, dominated by his father's alcoholism and their physical tussles.  Billingham's pictures are direct and moving, yet they also provoke the viewer to wonder about the action of showing one's family to the world in such an unflattering light.  Wearing also is interested in alcohol: her 1997-99 23-minute work Drunk is a three-screen black and white video projection with sound, and her 40 minute video on six screens from 2001 titled Broad Street both show people drinking. 

"Drunk presents terminal drunks in a blank white room where their fighting, cursing, and imminent collapse into unconscious oblivion become an almost laboratory-like exercise in human observation" (Molon, p. 23.)

Broad Street is about the ritual of a night out on the town.  Wearing's approach is far less personal than Billingham's; she rarely figures in her own work, and when she does, she normally is in some form of disguise.  Her style is gripping yet at the same time she keeps her distance from her viewer – she is not confessing or trying to convince her viewer to agree with her.  There's also more obvious devices in her work aimed to defuse the temptation to think that she is simply showing the world as it is; some of her pieces use actors, and her approach is nearly always to show people in unusual settings, not simply as they are in their everyday lives.  It seems clear that she wants to make the viewer reexamine her relation to the people portrayed and question normal assumptions.   

            Wearing's artistic creations do have political relevance – they certainly draw attention to gender and class issues – yet they seem more about psychology in the way people relate to others and describe themselves.  She is not subverting our conceptions of normality, although she does heighten her viewers' sense of the bizarreness of everyday life.  Neither is she trying simply to show in existentialist fashion the impossibility of true communication and the pervasiveness of self-deception leading to individual isolation, even though those themes do seem present in her bleaker works.  The importance of her work lies rather in its power in making the viewer call into question her normal perception of the world.  While Mass Observation may not be the best introduction to her work, it is at least a start, and the associated exhibitions should bring this extraordinarily provocative work to a wider audience.

 

© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.


Share

Welcome to MHN's unique book review site Metapsychology. We feature over 7800 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than thirty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Can't remember our URL? Access our reviews directly via 'metapsychology.net'


Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from Amazon.com for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your Amazon.com purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!


Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? Currently, we especially need thoughtful reviewers for books in fiction, self-help and popular psychology. To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716