Gillian Wearing: ‘I don’t have any typical practice. Every project is different’
The artist talks about the ideas behind her latest film project, A Room With Your Views, which brings together footage from around the world and will be premiered at Brighton Festival
by ANNA McNAY
As part of this year’s Brighton Festival and HOUSE 2016 (Brighton's curated visual arts festival), Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing (b1963) will be premiering her new exhibition, A Room With Your Views, part of her collaborative, global film project, Your Views, for which she asked people – everyone – from around the world to film and submit a short clip of their curtains or blinds opening and the view from their window.
Wearing, whose work explores our public personas and private lives, describes her working method as “editing life”. She uses photography and film, alongside theatrical staging techniques, to record people’s confessions and present herself in various guises and with various masks.
She spoke to Studio International about the ideas behind her project.
Anna McNay: How did you come up with the idea of asking people – everyone in the world, in fact – to film the view from their window? Were you given some kind of a brief and asked to pitch a project, or did this idea come to you out of the blue?
Gillian Wearing: It wasn’t a brief. It was just when I was opening a blind at my studio one day that it felt like the unveiling of an image – the image being the view outside. I thought this would be great as a film, because the opening of the curtains or blinds would make good edit points between the views. It’s like the curtains going back on a cinema screen and it creates an element of surprise. From that initial idea, I knew it would be perfect for an international collaborative film that could connect countries, continents, towns and cities. It is a very simple way to have hundreds of different locations in one film.
AMc: A lot of your projects involve public participation. Does this ever lead to problems? What are some of the extra considerations that such a project brings with it that working alone would not?
GW: As long as you set out all the details of a project, there should be no issues. I have a website where everyone uploads the film and it explains everything there. It’s a matter of choice for the person whether they then want to be involved.
AMc: Do you find you get a good response to your call-outs? Is there a point at which you have to turn away submissions?
GW: It has been fantastic. I have received more views than I expected and now it is quite difficult to edit them within the timeframe. The finished film will be around two hours long and I initially thought it would be an hour and half at the very most. Unfortunately, not all the views I’ve received can be included. The main reason for exclusion is technical issues with the filming of the view: sometimes the person’s camera is going in and out of focus or it was shot vertically rather than horizontally. It is hard to know until the edit what views will work in the film.
AMc: For this particular project, you wanted to include views from every country in the world, including harder to reach places such as Syria and North Korea. How close are you to this goal?
GW: I have two views from Syria. To get a view from North Korea will take some time and, unfortunately, won’t be in the film at Brighton. So far, I have 167 countries out of 195.
AMc: Why did you decide to work with moving image rather than still photographs for this particular project?
GW: In the context of this project, film is far more interesting – for a start, there is movement. A lot of the films have the feel of still image until you see a tree sway or a person walk past the shot, so things happen and you can get lost in the scenery for a while and then be transported elsewhere to another part of the world.
AMc: Your work often explores ideas of personal identity through (un-)masking and other theatrical techniques. Are you relating these views back to the viewers’ identity in some way – for example, is the raising of the curtain or blind a form of unmasking – or is the idea behind this collection something quite different?
GW: Yes, the curtain is a form of unmasking. On the curtain or blind at the beginning of each shot is the name of the location: town/city and country. There is this brief moment, as you read these details, when you imagine how the place will look from what you know of it. But, once it is unveiled, it very rarely complies with the image you have.
AMc: Your series of photographs of yourself disguised as iconic photographers, such as Andy Warhol, Diane Arbus and Claude Cahun, is well known. Are there any more people you would like to include in this series?
GW: There are one or two, but I won’t mention them until I make the images.
AMc: You have described your work as “editing life”. Have you ever received material you simply could not edit?
GW: Not for any particular reason, but editing implies that you edit what should be the essential important elements of the material you have.
AMc: Talking of editing, how much postproduction or Photoshopping work do you typically do?
GW: I don’t have any typical practice. Every project is different.
AMc: In 2010, you released your first feature-length film, Self Made. Do you have any plans to make more such films?
GW: Yes, I would love to make another film, but I haven’t really started to think what that would be.
AMc: Do you still consider a film that length to be an artwork, or has it crossed into the cinematic genre?
GW: I still saw it as art and I was very fortunate that the Film Council – now the BFI – really wanted me to work in that way.
AMc: Who, or what, are your greatest artistic influences?
GW: There are so many. But I have also been influenced by TV, by life, by books, and so on.
AMc: What is it like living with another artist [your partner, Michael Landy]? Do you give each other feedback on your work? How do you manage to switch off from your work and from art as a subject?
GW: As artists, we don’t switch off, although we can do a lot of things not connected with art. It is brilliant living with Michael and always has been. We knew each other from the 1980s and have been together since 1996. We are both easygoing people so it’s never difficult. We used to work very happily in a small council flat – Michael in the kitchen, me in the living room. We now have a studio, but it made no difference what size the place was –it was really easy working next to each other. We talk about our work and other people’s work. I always love to hear his view on things.
AMc: One of the premises of your work is that “everybody’s got a secret” – are you willing to share one of your own?
GW: It wouldn’t be a secret then.