gillian wearing

Leo Edelstein: You've just done a project for television . . .

Gillian Wearing: Yes, it's a four-minute piece for television, I'm just finishing off the sound editing. It's a mother and two sons, and the sons have got their mother's voice and the mothers got the sons' voice. It's edited so that it's lip-synched between the two. The sons are eleven, but they're incredibly articulate.

Edelstein: What's the title?

Wearing: Two into One.

Edelstein: Do you like the idea of having something on television instead of in a gallery?

Wearing: With galleries you always find out about the context first — who you're going to show with, or if you get a private space. With television they can put you on late at night and it mightn't be the right context. So it's very different. With television it's domestic so you can get up and leave, or switch channels. In a gallery people can contemplate, and they don't have any of the domestic trappings that can waver their interests.

Edelstein: Has living in London been much of an influence on your work?

Wearing: Yes, when I came to London from Birmingham in 1983 it seemed so cosmopolitan and it's always been fascinating. When I was younger I was always thinking about how much I'd like to be in London. I've always been completely in awe of the place. I've had a bit of a love affair with it. Even though I'm used to living here now, I can still go out and think, what a great range of activity and people. I'd felt like I'd grown out of Birmingham pretty early on in my life, and then I came to London — if s only two hours on the train — and I've never actually felt that I've grown out of it!

Edelstein: The sociality of London seems quite strong in works like Dancing in Peckham (1994) . . .

Wearing: Well my first idea was to dance in Covent Garden, but I chose Peckham because it reminds me a bit more of Birmingham and it's quite local to where I live, but it also reminds me of those other aspects where you're not expecting something extraordinary to happen unless you're seeing someone who's mad, and how people deal with that. When it's a very mundane day with people doing very mundane activities, how do you actually cope with that situation? A lot of people just look out of the corner of their eyes — that's true or British people in general, I think.

Edelstein: It's also this idea of embarrassment.

Wearing: I first wanted to do the piece because I saw a woman in the Royal Festival Hall and she was dancing to a jazz band and I was more fascinated by her than the jazz band! She was going wild and wasn't with anyone. She was dancing by the tables rather than where the dance floor was. It was hysterical and kind of weird, and she obviously might have known that, and I was thinking that was quite an enviable position to be in, to lose your inhibitions and not worry about what other people think. So it's about the idea of losing your inhibitions — or trying to, for me it's quite hard.

Edelstein: A lot of your subjects have their roots in the everyday, the real world, and experiences that are often left out of art.

Wearing: Actually, when I started doing the work I wasn't interested in the idea of it being about the everyday, I was just interested in people- 'Everyday' sounds like the idea of normality — it sounds quite depressing! My work's not in any way an argument against the idea of high art, Minimalism or something like that, it's not set up against that, or rebelling against it. When I began taking photographs I thought they might work better in magazines, in a journalistic sense, rather than as art.

Edelstein: Have you always been interested in these subjects? How did you contact to make the type of art that you're now doing?

Wearing: A lot of it was when I immediately left college. I had a great time there but I never imagined that I could be good at making art. At college I thought I was interested in painting, and I thought I was interested in sculpture, and I thought I was interested in installation, but it was always ephemeral things like video that I was really interested in. So I started doing interviews with people in the street using a camcorder. It came about through being left out on my own, and not worrying about being successful and things like that.

Edelstein: Were there any particular movements that influenced you at the time, the Situationists for instance?

Wearing: I think it was more looking at people in general, and I wanted to somehow do things with them. It comes through a whole series of different reasons that you reject, but then it feels right all of a sudden, and it's not because somewhere there was work around that was like it. But it obviously came out of some hesitation — I rejected half the work — and I could do the work without really worrying about it. I also had a part-time job so I had money, more than I had in college, so I could afford to experiment . . .

Edelstein: How did your photographs Signs that say what you want them to say . . . (1992-93) come about?

Wearing: I ended up with those pictures because I was getting very bad videos that reminded me too much of how television would approach it, but not even good television! So the problem when I was doing the vox pop videos was that I didn't think they worked as art at all — my amateur camerawork was terrible. When I look back at it, it was very exciting doing it — it was very weird and different — but when I got the results back I realized that I wasn't actually interested in what the people were saying. So I wanted to find something that would work. I was working at this art center part-time and I started writing things out on a piece of paper and handing them to people. I'd ask them to hold it up then I'd photograph them — they were people that I knew, and the results were all very funny, but I felt lazy about it as well, Then one day I went to Regents Park, which was opposite the art center, and asked four people to write anything they wanted to, and one woman wrote: I REALLY LOVE REGENTS PARK. I remember when she wrote it down the way she was looking — she was in her sixties and she had a lovely face — and I thought it was great, and quite banal. She held it up and it was winter and I knew without even pressing the button that it worked, and I thought that I'd start asking more people. So it started off not being anything — I don't always work like that. I didn't even know what it was I was looking for.

Edelstein: In some ways your work could be seen as being about contemporary portraiture.

Wearing: Yes, I'm quite interested in portraiture.

Edelstein: But it's like a portraiture which is open and more free-forming, rather than closed off, almost the opposite of portraits of the rich and famous.

Wearing: Yes, but again when I started doing it I wasn't really thinking of those things either. I'm only catching up on art history now, so I wasn't thinking in that vein. I taught myself to use a camera-it's not very difficult to use a camera, but I never bothered looking at any textbooks on how to make a picture. I had a much more casual relation to it. For me at the time it was much more about the process rather than the results

Edelstein: Quite a few of your works revolve around time, or displaced time, whether it's in Sixty Minutes Silence (1996) where a group of police sit still for an hour as if they are being photographed, or your more recent photographs at Interim Art where people's predictions for the next four years accompanied their portraits . . .

Wearing: I'm a very forward looking person, but what interests me is the idea of what happens to your life. It's like when you're young you think you're going to know the same people for the rest of your life. and you never do, people slip through your net of contacts. When you get older you end up getting more involved in what you're doing, and seeing less and less of the people you know. I'm quite intrigued about what happens.

Text: © Copyright, Journal of Contemporary Art, Inc. and the authors.