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August 12 2012

London 2012: Team arts go for gold

David Hockney fumed at the opening, Gillian Wearing captured Bolt, and Susan Philipsz mashed up some anthems . . . but what else happened when we challenged artists to respond to the Games?

Opening ceremony

David Hockney
The painter and committed smoker was inspired by a detail in Danny Boyle's spectacular that passed others by: Isambard Kingdom Brunel's unlit cigar – and this in spite of belching chimneys and live soldering. Hockney's iPad painting appeared in last week's g2, and read: "I noticed there was a lot of smoke from fireworks but none from Brunel's cigar. Does this mean that the BBC sees art as directive (unlit) and not reflective (lit)? Debate." People did (look up the comments).

Day three

Olafur Eliasson
The artist who put an artificial sun into Tate Modern's Turbine Hall used one of his own-design solar lamps to pay tribute to the Olympians' speed and dynamism. He wrote: "For me, the Games are about being together, about sharing attention and ideals. They are about feeling connected to people from all over the world, physical engagement and energy. Light generates action: it is as physical as anything you will see in the Olympics."

Day four

Mark Titchner
The Turner 2006 nominee picked up on the anxious mood of the early days, before the medal rush. One layer of text in his artwork quotes from the tabloid press ("Historic bronze for our brilliant gymnasts, but please can we have just one gold. Any sport"); the other layer pays tribute to Team GB's eventing horses: Lionheart, Opposition Buzz, High Kingdom, Miners Frolic, Imperial Cavalier ("Do they get medals, too?").

Day five

Richard Wentworth
The sculptor, curator and lecturer took a break from a camping trip (location undisclosed) to watch Bradley Wiggins take gold in the time trial. He wrote: "The 30-year habit of summer camping sets me apart from world events. Catching sight of televisions in bars is the kind of glimpsing I enjoy – images, languages and events all arbitrarily associated with time and displacement. The latch on this door will remind me of the warm domestic afternoon in early August 2012 when our friends invited us to watch London as a site of Olympic spectacle. An odd thing if you know the city well, but much stranger if you are camping a long way away."

Day six

Michael Rosen
The poet and former children's laureate performed his own new poem about gold medal anxiety – still an issue even at this stage, with Team GB behind France. "I love sport," Rosen said, "but become uneasy when it is overly shackled to nation, corporate grabbing and only-first-will-do-ism. All three and I'm nearly out of here. Imagine there's no countries, it's easy if you try." Here's an extract from his Olympic poem:

I've got gold medal anxiety, gold medal neurosis
doctor doctor give me a diagnosis
Day 1 day 2 day 3 day 4
you was down I was on the floor
feeling such a failure
would I finish below Australia?
Then from the heavens came day 5
I discovered the reasons I am alive
better than when I met Christopher Biggins
Glover, Stanning and Bradley Wiggins.

I've got gold medal anxiety, gold medal neurosis
doctor doctor give me a diagnosis

Then before I came to grief
came the moment of pure relief
as the afternoon began to unfold
I ... won ... double gold.
And yet I had cause to fret
there were silvers for me to regret
I gave the medal table a glance:
Horrors! ... Above Brand GB ... France!
• Read the poem in full

Day nine

Gillian Wearing
The Turner prize 2007 winner was in the Olympic stadium on Sunday 5 August as Usain Bolt crossed the 100m finish line, and took this image (right). She said: "I got into track and field through watching Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett's memorable races against each other at the Moscow 1980 Olympics. After that, I have never missed the opportunity to be a couch Olympics supporter. I was in row 48 of the stadium, quite high up, but just above the finishing line. This image is just after the 100m final. Both Chris Gatlin and Usain Bolt have cameras trained on them. In the corner of the image, Yohan Blake, the silver medal winner, congratulates Gatlin on his bronze."

Day 11

Jackie Kay
The poet and novelist read three new poems, a kind of writer's triathlon, inspired by the Brownlee brothers' medal success in that event, as well as Team GB performances in javelin and cycling. She wrote: "I was struck by the idea that sharing somebody's disappointment is as intense and intimate as sharing their success. I used to be a long-distance runner, a Scottish schoolgirl champion, until I broke my leg and didn't walk properly for a year and a half. So I was thinking about that, too. How quickly we move into our unfit futures!" Here's the final leg of her poem, Point of View:

Farewell Victoria Pendleton
It was a day of drama in the velodrome
As you watched agog, OMG,
As Trott took the omnium
Against the odds of a collapsed lung
Coming home, coming home.
Not one but two golds to her name.
You saw the photo of not so long ago
With young Laura and her Bradley hero.
Not long later, you watched Victoria
Who rode as close to her rival
As a synchronised swimmer
And all the drama was in the lane error
Where the line was crossed in the velodrome
As close as step to pets; palindromes,
The Mearest of lines, the closing line.

So, farewell Victoria dearest, you say.
You salute her. She runs her last lap, and bows.
The last time I'm going to go through that, she says.
And even her brave coach is in bits.
We knew it would end in tears, the TV says.
And they roll down your cheeks too – your armchair, you.
The greatest ever theatre – sport's soap opera.
Victoria. Oh Victoria. Collect your silver!
Your ordeal is over: take your seat on the throne.
Read the poem in full

Day 13

Cornelia Parker
The sculptor and installation artist took this image of her own living room, explaining: "I haven't been able to focus on art since the Olympics started, not quite managing to peel my eyes away from the TV. After too many days of viewing, gorged with patriotism and pride, I starting to behave oddly … too much information perhaps, too much success. Now I find myself draping my daughter's union flag over the TV in a feeble attempt to blot it out – but in the process I manage to cause a minor marital rift as my enraged husband misses a crucial bit of action."

Day 14

Wolfgang Tillmans
The artist and photographer, newly returned to London from Berlin, took this photograph of an Olympic traffic lane in east London. The lanes are now suspended but will come back into force for the start of the Paralympics. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 06 2012

Gillian Wearing watches Usain Bolt make history

Wearing was in the crowd for the men's 100m final. Here, she shows us a moment of support the TV cameras failed to capture

Sponsored post

March 31 2012

Gillian Wearing; Patrick Keiller

Whitechapel Art Gallery; Tate Britain, London

At almost 50, Gillian Wearing is still making art to divide the audience. The curators of this show, for instance, appear moved by her little figurines of everyday heroes – a hoodie who turns out to be a brave police cadet, a woman who helped out on 9/11 – where others may find them cutesy and mawkish. If you're going, take a friend and see whether you can agree on the moral, aesthetic and emotional values of her work. To me, these are constantly in doubt.

The Whitechapel show is superbly staged, at least, and has all the classics: Trauma, in which adults disclose dreadful childhood memories on the small screen; Drunk, with its street drinkers staggering through elaborate fights and reconciliations in life-size triple-screen projection. The policemen keeping agonisingly still in Sixty Minute Silence; the much-plagiarised photographs of people holding signs inscribed with their inner thoughts – "I'm Desperate", "Mary come back".

Anyone unfamiliar with the old arguments about Wearing will find them conveniently revived in a dozen films from the past two decades. Intrusion, manipulation, voyeurism, exploitation: all these charges are courted by the works themselves, with their distinctive presentation of authenticity in the form of conspicuous staging.

Each film asks you to consider what is true, what is performed or real, and what, if anything, can be known about the subjects. Which has sometimes amounted to very little – who was the eponymous Woman with the bandaged face I saw yesterday down Walworth Road?– or, at times, nothing.

Take the latest series of photographic portraits in which Wearing plays many parts, from her parents and grandparents to artistic forebears such as Diane Arbus, Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe. The artist squeezes into a latex mask or body suit, holds the pose of grandmother, mother, father or brother and disappears into the period photograph.

Wearing's contribution is the idea (and the wearing, so to speak). The skill is in the illusions themselves. So plausible are these prosthetic faces that the join is barely visible in the rim where mask meets eye, except when deliberately exposed; a magic extended to costume, scenario and lighting.

Claude Cahun, Cindy Sherman, Hiroshi Sugimoto – the influence of these quick-change artists is everywhere apparent. But unlike Sherman, Wearing does not create characters; and unlike Sugimoto, she does not create appearances.

Wearing as Claude Cahun has a touch of wit in the Wearing-faced mask dangling like an attribute from Cahun's hand. But this marvellous French artist did not assume masks as a trope. To be outside society, to be misunderstood, to live in disguise (she was a resistance heroine): Cahun's self-portraits admit the miseries of a double life just as they acknowledge how strange one can seem even to oneself.

Wearing, on the other hand, is only trying on other people's faces. It is true that a strong family likeness emerges in that series (though how can one know, since all eyes belong to Wearing?). It is also true that some kind of homage is implied in recreating oneself in the image of other artists.

But that Wearing can be made to look exactly like all these different people is mainly what strikes – that and the peculiar lack of affect. After the showbusiness double take, these pictures are perfectly blank. Even when Wearing appears as a three year-old, the image does not occasion mortal questions so much as curiosity to know how the trick was achieved.

These feats of wizardry are a prelude to the confessional booths that follow, where people in masks "confess" to Secrets and Lies. Domestic violence, childhood beatings, rape, murder: the monologues are harrowing. They are also strictly produced. Nobody talks for more than an allotted few minutes, so that the bare outline of hell is all anyone can offer. The disguise is always a distraction, generally because the discrepancy between what is being said and the mask from which it issues is so extreme – the woman whose husband tried to strangle her, for instance, is got up in a candy-coloured top, matching lipstick and blusher.

This feels indiscriminate or sententious, depending on your viewpoint. At worst, it undermines the speaker. They talk, we listen, the experience all round is botched, unfulfilled, incomplete.

In Bully, a victim re-enacts his suffering with the aid of a group of strangers, whom he is encouraged to cast and direct. The film begins with finger jabbing and ends with near-violence. But it's never clear whether catharsis takes place, nor (typical twist) whether everyone is truly acting. How can one know: that remains Wearing's default position. She doesn't ask, and she doesn't want us to ask.

People are strange, people are not what they seem, nobody can be fully understood. Wearing's art is often heavy with platitude. Her strongest works, to me, have their roots in reality but raise the artifice to dramatic heights – films such as Sacha and Mum with its noh-like ritualisation of a mother-daughter relationship, and the unforgettable 2 Into 1.

Here, Wearing films a mother talking about her 10-year-old twins, and vice versa, then has each lipsynch the other's monologues in turn. As each speech is uttered, family secrets are devastatingly corroborated by the body language. "Lawrence is gorgeous, I love every inch of him," declares Lawrence, smirking at his mother's praise. Mute, resigned, Lawrence's twin grits his teeth alongside.

At Tate Britain, Patrick Keiller has been given the whole length of the Duveen galleries to reprise one of his cult films by other means. Robinson in Ruins plays silently on a giant screen while pictures selected from the Tate archive act as further illustrations and, indeed, stills to the film's fictional journey through Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire.

Robinson, it may be recalled, is that mysterious academic from the University of Barking (sic) whose travels through psychogeography are reminiscent of Iain Sinclair. His is an England haunted by white horses and neolithic rings, henges and pylons, nuclear plants and power stations. It is sepulchral, apocalyptic, wondrous and political; and so is much of the art.

Turner's shipwreck bristles alongside Muirhead Bone's drawing of the British Museum Reading Room under construction: each a dark chaos of struts. Black cloudscapes by Alexander Cozens glower behind real chunks of the meteorite that landed in Yorkshire in 1795, the same year as the Poor Removal Act; and here are victims of that act in portraits.

The journey proceeds through coincidence, proximity, visual affinity. Sometimes it's predictable – Blake versus Constable, Greenham Common, Quatermass, Peter Kennard's deathless Haywain with Cruise Missiles. But there are revelations along the way: the overlooked Susanna Duncombe, tremendous explosions by Leonard Rosoman and Paul Nash, Keiller's own photographs of sackcloth ghouls windblown in the hedgerows and overgrown milestones once sponsored by RBS.

This is art as consciousness-raising, to some extent, but it is also addictive and immersive. And Keiller's offbeat humour is at play in the situationist cartoons and the riffs on Goethe, romanticism and the picturesque. His gift, as in the films, lies in plucking images from the landscape and holding them to the light for contemplation, and he could have gone on and on for ever, it seems to me. But what is here will suffice to make one ruminate on the museum and the world outside in a different way. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 30 2012

Gillian Wearing: 2 into 1

Video: As the Whitechapel Gallery's Gillian Wearing retrospective opens, watch an extract from video projection 2 into 1 (1997)

March 29 2012

Mighty real: Gillian Wearing's favourite documentaries

From 7 Up to TOWIE, Andy Warhol to the Maysles brothers, I am influenced by films that highlight human reality and interaction

When people consider the art of the moving image, documentary is most often seen as the poor cousin of the feature film. But the inception of film started with the documentary, whether it was a horse galloping or a train coming through a tunnel.

Documentaries have influenced how actors can perform more naturally, or film-makers create mises-en-scène convincingly. But more than anything, they have changed us all, allowed us to understand others we have never met or will never have the chance to meet. They have changed our social ways as we pick up on how other people live and, in some cases, adopt manners and behaviours. My work has been influenced by documentaries, particularly those from the 1970s, where new ideas were being explored in programmes like The Family and 7 Up. In no particular order, here are my favourites.

The Family/The American family

I watched Paul Watson's The Family as a young girl. There was nothing like it on TV at the time – life spilling out in what seemed real time (at that point it did anyway), in all its complicated, messy or funny ways. The Wilkins family were an ordinary working-class family and were like people I knew, in fact my best friend at school resembled youngest daughter Heather. This was not the stereotypical family portrayed in programmes like Coronation Street; this family seemed more complex and dealt with ups and downs in their own unique way.

It got a lot of criticism at the time, in much the same way that Big Brother did when it first aired. The problem for critics and some viewers was that the family revealed their personal problems and argued among themselves – there was a lot of judgment about the way they lived their lives. I was oblivious to most of these criticisms as I was young and accepted what I saw, and in fact what I saw felt like real life.

What was also unique about it was that it was still being filmed while it was being shown on TV, so in some of the last episodes the family are reading about themselves in the papers and are able to answer back to their critics. I think this led in part to the audience changing their minds about them. In the final episode, one of the eldest daughters gets married. A huge crowd of people turn up out of curiosity, awe and because the family have now become famous in the UK. One bystander admits she didn't think much of them at first, but then she realised that all families have problems and she had begun to like them because of their honesty.

This is why reality TV is so successful after the initial brouhaha, shock and criticism. The good programmes keep their audience because we learn from seeing how other people deal with issues in their lives, both good and bad, or in Big Brother's case how people interact in a situation that could resemble an office or other social gathering. I have added The American Family under the same heading, because this was the very first of this genre of programmes filmed two years before the UK version and aired a year later after 12 months of editing.

The Up series – Granada TV

This was the documentary everyone talked about at school. A simple idea, to record children from the age of seven onwards, every seven years. To see how each child fares as they become adults and if their initial hopes and dreams turn out they way they wanted. It was the main influence behind my film 10-16 (1997), where I had actors lip-synch to children's voices between the ages of 10 and 16, to capture the way children's thoughts and concerns change as they move towards adulthood. The documentaries showed that every child has dreams – some fulfilled, others not. One young man says he expected to become rich and famous but instead was helping his mother who had depression. Another spoke of how his "heart was on the left and purse was on the right" as he was becoming financially successful. This was just an extraordinary experiment that made you really think about your own life and how you reflect back.

Warhol Screen tests/Empire

Andy Warhol is the most experimental of all documentary makers; his playfulness and disrespect for convention led to the creation of seminal film-making. Just sitting people down in front of a film camera without any instruction led to the screen tests. The more we look, the more we pay attention to every detail. He does exactly the same with Empire, although nothing changes but the light.

The imagery in these films is as iconic as his soup cans. The more we watch, the more we think about it, and the more we think about it, the more important it becomes. Warhol exhausted the lengths to which long takes could be extended. For all his commercial success as an artist, his films are entrenched in the avant garde, though as influence goes his ideas have seeped into so many aspects of the mainstream – from feature films to documentaries and reality TV.

Titicut Follies – Frederick Wiseman

There is a scene in a Béla Tarr's film Werckmeister Harmonies where a camera pans into a room and we see a naked man bereft of any dignity shivering in a shower room. It is a shock to the system and it brings you to your senses. I have always wondered if Tarr had taken this scene's inspiration from Frederick Wiseman's documentary Titicut Follies. It is a shocking and grim look behind the scenes of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, an institute for those labelled criminally insane. The men spend a great deal of time naked in their cells or being shaved, force fed or showered by the guards. The film reads like a human-zoo horror story, but its power comes through its filming and editing, which rhythmically give you a sense of the chaos and cruelty of this world.

Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y – Johan Grimonprez

Spliced together from news and found footage, this film is a montage of events including terrorist attacks, hijacks and plane crashes. With voiceover and music from the time the events happened, it has a little bit of the BBC's Rock 'n' Roll Years feel, where the seduction of the music contradicts the horror of the images. This film was made in 1997, four years before 9/11, for the art exhibition Documenta in Kassel. It draws on our fascination with disasters as well as our empathy for those caught up in the drama.

Grey Gardens – the Maysles brothers

A mother and daughter, "little Edie" and "big Edie" Beale, live together in a ramshackle house in the Hamptons, New York, where they seem to have retreated from the outside world. Respectively first cousin and aunt to Jackie Kennedy, the Beales dropped out of the aristocratic circle they once inhabited, where little Edie could have married Paul Getty, something her mother doesn't want her to forget. There is wit, pathos and co-dependency in this unique relationship recorded by the Maysles brothers and now a cult film.

Reality TV

And finally, a word about reality TV. Reality programmes haven't been an influence on me – I had been making my work for 10 years before the launch of Big Brother in 2000. But I relate in part to its creation of situations that seek new ways of seeing how participants interact with each other. I too have tried to create unique structures in order to see the world anew. My recent viewing has included The Only Way is Essex, which is part reality, part fiction, where the fictional improvisation bring out true feelings that become a new reality for the participants. We are all actors, improvising each time we talk to someone, and I think this programme distinctly illuminates that analogy. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 27 2012

Come on, you can tell me anything …

Gillian Wearing has extracted terrible confessions and sexual secrets from her subjects. So why does the artist keep hiding behind masks? Adrian Searle on her major new show

Leaving Gillian Wearing's survey show at the Whitechapel Gallery, I have a sudden urge to confess all. Hello. I have a fetish for fishing waders and I am more fun in a frock than Grayson Perry. I have lots of secrets, which I drip-feed into my articles so that no one will know. I also lie all the time, just making things up as I go along. Who am I fooling?

I have to admit to having some problems with Wearing's show, too; its constant reiteration of what are essentially the same strategies. Still, all art is limited, and most people fix on a few unvarying themes or formal gambits. This is what we call a personal voice, which we often take for a kind of authenticity, generated by some inner spark: the essential me inside the mess of being alive.

Much of Wearing's earlier work from the 1990s – especially her videos of adults speaking with children's voices, now seem dated and a bit mawkish, however heartfelt the things they say. Her new little sculpted figures – a woman who saved lives on 9/11; a black kid in a hoodie, who turns out to be a police cadet; a war hero suffering from post-traumatic stress – are just toe-curling.

However consistent her theme, Wearing is very uneven. Sometimes she can startle. Her newest video, Crowd, depicts a patch of grass and weeds with a few live ants crawling about a living replica of Albrecht Dürer's 1503 watercolour Great Piece of Turf – Study of Weeds. Just as Dürer's work was a carefully staged studio composition, so, too, is Wearing's video. Like staged cookery photographs, both are tamed and coiffed versions of the real, from the plants themselves to the light that falls. Pimp my turf. This is fun, but slight, even if it encourages us to think about nature and nurture, what we see, what we want, and what we're really getting. All art is a construction, and so are we.

This universal truth has been Wearing's preoccupation since the beginning of her career. When she danced in a Peckham shopping centre in 1994, she may appear to have been dancing alone, lost in music, but she was staging herself, and there was a camera there. There was nothing spontaneous or unselfconscious about it. In the same way, her reveal-all confessional videos never stray from their subject's inner script, nor Wearing from hers. There isn't much development between her 1994 Confess All on Video and 2000's Trauma, nor between those and 2009's Secrets and Lies. Shown in a row of little booths, like church confessionals or peep-show cabins, it is difficult to tell these works apart. Various masked men and women tell their woeful tales of childhood abuse and family violence, their sexual fantasies, their desires and deceptions. (I foresee queues.)

In every case we are left teetering on the brink: titillated, saddened, intrigued, amused perhaps; but, as in the agony columns, we are witnessing litanies of half-truths and lies. Behind those anonymity-guaranteeing masks, much is left unexplained and unexamined. We are stalled, along with her subjects, begging for more context. Each of Wearing's subjects has unfinished business, with their families and friends, with the law, perhaps with a therapist, and most of all with themselves. None of these stories will have an ending – never mind that dread word "closure". As Wearing herself has observed: "They have probably been rehearsing [these stories] in their heads over many years." Each is a kind of fixed portrait or a death mask.

After a bit, I lost the picture in one of the booths (the technicians were still tinkering on my visit) and realised I didn't care about the disguised faces. What matters is the voice and the story being told; never mind that the man who likes lapping up menstrual blood is wearing a rubber vampire mask, or that the masks worn by the people in Trauma are slightly too small – allowing adult jowls and beards to be glimpsed around their masks of childhood and adolescent misery.

The mask is used to much better effect in Wearing's photographic projects. She wears masks of her own face, and of her family members: mother, father, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and a head-and-body prosthesis cast from her brother Richard, replicating a snapshot of him, stripped to the waist and brushing his hair in his bedroom. Here, she acts out a truth we already know: that fragments and deep echoes of these others are somehow living inside us. Catching ourselves acting out our parents' mannerisms, imitating and ventriloquising the sorts of things friends and people we admire have said, their body language or their catchphrases, we begin to learn that each of us is contingent. One thing is certain: we are not only the people that we think we are.

Another series has Wearing posed and masked as various members of what she has called her "spiritual family". These are derived from and mimic iconic photographs of famous, dead heroes: a gaunt Robert Mapplethorpe proffering a skull-headed cane; Diane Arbus with her camera slung around her neck; Me as Warhol in Drag with Scar (based on two different shots); the late, great surrealist Claude Cahun (who is already wearing a disguise, and whose photographic experiments with her own image were, to a large part, the essence of her work); and the German photographer August Sander, whose portraits of German "types", both famous and anonymous, are among the best portraits of the 20th century.

Complex to cast from life or to sculpt from their photographic sources, the silicon masks worn by Wearing never attempt a perfect, seamless match. There she is, gazing back from behind the mask. You can see the joins, the gap around the eyes. In the case of Wearing's self-portraits as her dead heroes, she has chosen individuals who were much concerned with the public personas they projected: androgynous Andy, dangerous Mapplethorpe, the fastidious Sander, demure Arbus, Cahun's comedic, sexy gender-play. They all played at being themselves for the camera.

Taking oneself too seriously is one thing. Taking our various selves seriously, and attending to what they have to tell us is another. This seems to me to be the crux of Wearing's work – whether she is swapping the voices of adults and children, getting people to confess, or to write Signs That Say What You Want to Them to Say and Not Signs That Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say, to quote the self-explanatory title of an early work. Her work with a method-acting coach, in the 2010 film Self Made (and in the accompanying improvisation workshop video Bully), further attest to this singular preoccupation. It may seem obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs retelling, even if only to encourage us to stay fluid, in the constant re-invention of ourselves. As an artist, Wearing needs to do the same.

• Gillian Wearing is at Whitechapel Gallery, London, until 17 June. Catch up with her digital takeover of © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Behind the mask

As part of her digital takeover, Gillian Wearing leads us through the extraordinary creative process of making her 2003 masks series

March 26 2012

Gillian Wearing takeover: Dancing in Peckham – video

Conceptual artist Gillian Wearing takes the uninhibited dancing usually confined to people's bedrooms into a public space

Gillian Wearing takeover: dancing in public

As her Whitechapel Gallery retrospective opens, we look back at the artist's 1994 shopping centre dance-athon to a soundtrack ranging from Nirvana to the Bee Gees. Where would you throw some shapes in public today – and to what tunes?

In Gillian Wearing's 1994 artwork Dancing in Peckham, she took to a south London shopping centre and danced as if no one was watching, exploring her longstanding interest in confessional video works. Previously that year, Wearing had posted an advertisement in Time Out magazine encouraging the public to bare all to her on film (the result was her 35-minute film Confess All On Video. Don't Worry You Will Be in Disguise. Intrigued? Call Gillian); she later performed her own creative confession in dance form in Peckham. To mark the opening of her Whitechapel Gallery retrospective, Wearing will be taking over Here, she kicks off a week-long digital collaboration by sharing the playlist she listened to in preparation for her Peckham dance-athon (she then remembered it for the 25-minute duration). Watch video clips from her inhibition-suppressing soundtrack below, or go to the Spotify playlist here.

After you've listened and watched, we'd like you to get confessional with us. Where would you dance in public, and what would your soundtrack be?

Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

Bob Marley & The Wailers – Jamming

Queen – Don't Stop Me Now

Status Quo – Rockin' All Over the World

808 State - Pacific State

Blue Öyster Cult – (Don't Fear) The Reaper

Third World - Now that We Found Love

Bee Gees – Night Fever © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Gillian Wearing takeover: welcome to a week of secrets

This week, the Turner prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing is taking over with confessions and obsessions

Welcome to our week-long digital takeover by Turner prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing. As her Whitechapel Gallery review show throws open its doors, Gillian will be here every day telling Guardian readers what makes her tick, and letting you into her world of confessions and obsessions, from cross-dressing photographer Claude Cahun (the subject of a new work by Wearing) to a notorious 1960s Frederick Wiseman fly-on-the-wall film about a mental institution, Titicut Follies.

Today, she wants you to get confessional: she's sharing her Dancing in Peckham filmwork and soundtrack, and asking where you'd pick to dance in public. Tomorrow, she'll take you behind the scenes of her Masks series, which has seen her create and then be photographed in silicone masks of everyone from her family and herself to renowned German portraitist August Sander. Adrian Searle will also be reviewing the show tomorrow.

On Wednesday, the artist picks her favourite Signs made by the public, in which they express their innermost feelings on small-scale banners (a response to her 1992-3 series, Signs That Say What You Want Them to Say and Not Signs That Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say). Later in the week, Gillian will talk through the reality TV shows that have most inspired her, from Michael Apted's Seven Up to Andy Warhol's Screen Tests. With Gillian at the helm, it's sure to be a week of secret-spilling. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 24 2012

This week's new exhibitions

In The Blink Of An Eye: Media And Movement, Bradford

This is the kind of thing that Bradford's National Media Museum does best: setting up media studies exhibitions that are as captivating as they are historically informative. Most fascinating here are the displays that reveal ingenious ways in which movement was captured in the era before moving film was invented. Here, of course, are Eadweard Muybridge's late-19th-century stop-frame photo sequences that for the first time illustrated in magnificent detail how animals and semi-naked humans moved around. But here also are Victorian zoetrope optical toys and mutoscope ("What The Butler Saw") erotic teasings. Here too are a praxinoscope theatre and a phantascope lantern, and then – far more up-to-date – a CGI motion-capture suit. Then, beyond all this trickery, you come across Richard Billingham's stark, stunning photograph of a cat caught in mid-flight after being flung over the photographer's drunk dad's head, and your attention suddenly stops dead still on the perceptual surprise of a simple piece of great art.

National Media Museum, to 2 Sep

Robert Clark

Gillian Wearing, London

Gillian Wearing's films and photography tap one of identity's central paradoxes: it's sometimes easier to be ourselves when we're in disguise. This survey of her confessional projects over the past two decades features a revealing cross-section of society's under-sung. The anxieties of teenagers are lip-synched by adult actors and people in the street write their true feelings on signs. Meanwhile, in an early work, Wearing herself dances in the midst of a Peckham shopping centre and later photographs see her dressing up as members of her family or creative inspirations such as Diane Arbus. It all adds up to a poignant study of selfhood in a reality TV age where the camera is our very public confessional box.

Whitechapel Gallery, E1, Wed to 17 Jun

Skye Sherwin

Mirror Neurons, Sunderland

Just when one would suspect the National Glass Centre might run out of good art made from glass, it comes up with another exhibition that demonstrates the medium's enduring metaphorical potential. The title refers to scientific theories about understanding emotions by observing and mimicking. So the sensitively interactive art here depends on our own presence. A central installation is Catherine Richards's I Was Scared To Death/ I Could Have Died Of Joy, a glass replica of the brain and spinal column that responds to one's approach by pulsing with electromagnetic light signals of distress or elation.

National Glass Centre, to 20 May


Brains: The Mind As Matter, London

Don't expect an enquiry into the elusive business of invisible thought and emotion from this show. It's all about brains as grey, squidgy, tangible matter, and what we've done over the centuries to probe them. This includes plenty of dodgy but fascinating apparatus, from phrenology models, sprung from the "anatomy is destiny" belief that a person's character depends on the shape of their head, to exquisite 17th-century maps of the brain locating essential landmarks such as the seat of the soul. No less wonderful or precarious-sounding are modern biology's attempts to navigate the brain, using jellyfish genes to make living cells fluoresce. This fishy theme is continued in one of the contemporary artworks featured in the show: Helen Pynor's Headache. This delicately gothic image of a brain afloat in a murky blue sea, entangled in black thread, suggests both the metaphorical sea of consciousness and the origins of life.

Wellcome Collection, NW1, Thu to 17 Jun


Cerith Wyn Evans, Bexhill-on-Sea

In horror movies, flickering lights generally mean something supernatural. There's a similar fusion of language, electricity and yearning in Cerith Wyn Evans's art, not least in his chandeliers, flashing messages in Morse code. This haunting quality permeates all his work. Here he creates a love letter to the De La Warr Pavilion, removing gallery walls and revealing windows to flood the space with bright light. On the roof, firework flares spell out Jimi Hendrix lyrics. Meanwhile, giant columns throb with light and heat, mirroring the building's modernism as something hot and physical.

De La Warr Pavilion, to 10 Jun


William McKeown, Dublin

William McKeown has been sorely missed since his untimely death late last year. Here was an artist who reminded many of us of why we got into art in the first place: the pure thrill of opening one's first box of paints, the wide-eyed amazement at seeing an expanse of abstract colour taken so seriously in a gallery. His paintings, building up sensitivity from layers of resonant colour, are almost painfully uncomplicated. McKeown charms us into just looking, but it's an illuminating kind of looking. In his own words: "There are two types of art – open and closed. All closed art is negative and anti-life. Art which is open is … expanding, positive and life-enhancing."

Kerlin Gallery, to 14 Apr


Patrick Keiller, London

When it comes to humour, poetry and interrogation of our political landscape, no film-maker in Britain beats Patrick Keiller. Since the last Tory government, his fictionalised essay-documentaries have mixed shots of inner-city decrepitude and drab hinterlands with wry narration on economic failures, forgotten history, literary heroes and the peculiar English mind trap of nostalgia. All of which makes him a brilliant choice for the next Duveen galleries commission at Tate Britain.

Tate Britain, SW1, Tue to 14 Oct


Anthony Caro, Bakewell

This is the first show in the magnificent Capability Brown gardens to be dedicated to the work of a single artist, and features 15 sculptures created by Anthony Caro over the past 40 years. It is hard to imagine any other living sculptor who would not be cowed by the grandeur of the Emperor Fountain, around which the works are sited. Resplendent in varnished or rusted steel, or industrially spray-painted in blue, orange and green, Caro's monumental abstracts stand their own ground. Yet, despite their bold weightiness, there is an almost lyrical grace to these giant slabs of brute metal. "To please the eye and feed the soul … It's just a natural thing," is, after all, how Caro defines his creative agenda.

Chatsworth House, Wed to 1 Jul

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March 23 2012

Caro at Chatsworth, Gillian Wearing and Michael Canning – the week in art

Sculptor Anthony Caro puts together a tasteful show amid Chatsworth House's stupendous gardens, as Wearing lands at Whitechapel Gallery – all in your favourite art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: Caro at Chatsworth

I'll be looking at this exhibition in depth in a Guardian video to be launched next week, so I won't anticipate. I'll simply say that anyone anywhere near the beautiful countryside of Derbyshire this spring should take the chance to see this exhibition, not least for its stupendous setting. Chatsworth is one step beyond other stately homes. The seat of the Duke of Devonshire and an aristocratic dynasty that goes back to Tudor times, the house has a history that includes such figures as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and today's dowager duchess, Deborah Mitford. Famous characters aside, it's a jaw-dropping wonderland set in a superb landscape that was sculpted especially to show it off by no less a designer than Capability Brown. Now I see what was so capable about him. The gardens surrounding the house are a magical blend of rococo fantasy – including the Cascade, a fast-flowing river carved by hand in a hillside on top of which is a lake created to power the park's waterworks – and the 19th-century garden engineering of Joseph Paxton. The Rockery is made of gigantic boulders in genuinely terrifying arrangements, with a full-scale waterfall: a sublime landscape rather than a gentle feature. Nearby, a colossal fountain soars up from a lake around which the sculptor Anthony Caro shows this well-selected and artfully positioned survey of his works from the 1960s to this decade. They frame views of classical statues and the newly restored facade of the house itself. Caro's exhibition sets off the strange and prodigious art of Chatsworth's gardens.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, from 28 March until 1 July

Also opening

Gillian Wearing
There was always a humane wit and poetic realism about Wearing that made her early work hugely attractive. How good does she look now?
Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 28 March until 17 June

Printed in Norfolk: Coracle Publications
Artists' books by Gustav Metzger and Kurt Schwitters and the work of artist poet Ian Hamilton Finlay feature in this retrospective of an important small press.
The Gallery at Nuca, until 21 April

Michael Canning
Eerie and surreally beautiful modern flower paintings whose precision paradoxically leaves everything uncertain.
Waterhouse & Dodd, London, until 20 April

Secret Egypt
Want to know where the archaeology of Egypt ends and modern myth begins? Find out the facts behind the Hammer films, and while you are here check out a superb permanent collection of Roman antiquities.
Tullie House, Carlisle, until 10 June

Masterpiece of the week

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Madame Moitessier, 1856
The reflection of Madame Moitessier in a mirror behind her transforms this painting from a simple portrait into a reflection on the nature of beauty. For Ingres, beauty is eternal and unchanging. It is the source – the essential truth of life. He is a classicist who believes in the perfection of an ancient Greek ideal of beauty, reflected in the proportions of temples and the harmonies of music. In the philosophy of Plato, this ideal truth is not carnal but intangible. The world of the mirror in Ingres's painting is like the philosophical utopia of Plato: in that perfect place beyond the glass, forms are pure and true, and the stilled beauty of Madame Moitessier is set free from everyday bourgeois life to be revealed as something absolute. Ingres dwells on this woman's beauty not just as a random accident of good looks, but a revelation of the underlying order of the universe. Nothing could contrast more with the impressionists who, soon, would plunge French art into the randomness of the everyday.
National Gallery, London

Image of the week

What we learned this week

How to sketch a David Cameron caricature

How great your art is

Whether tiffs ensue when artist sweethearts join forces

That violent LS Lowry robbers have been jailed

Exactly what the start of spring looks like


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Farshid Moussavi will be in conversation with Rowan Moore at the Guardian's Open Weekend. Find out more and book tickets here. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 12 2012

Artists come together in a Crisis

The Crisis Commission at London's Somerset House will feature new works by artists including Gillian Wearing, Antony Gormley and Tracey Emin

A small and poignant bronze sculpture of a young man called Craig – who became homeless after serving in Afghanistan – will greet visitors to a new exhibition to raise awareness and money for the charity Crisis.

The work by Gillian Wearing goes on display at Somerset House in London on 14 March along with new pieces by artists including Antony Gormley, Tracey Emin, Sir Anthony Caro and Jonathan Yeo. All the works will be sold on 3 May, with the money going to the charity for single homeless people, Crisis.

Wearing said she was inspired by the real story of Craig O'Keefe who became homeless after returning from duty in Afghanistan. Eventually, with the help of Veteran's Aid, he managed to get work and a flat and is now a volunteer tutor for Crisis.

"Crisis were great because they really wanted artists to get involved directly with their charity," said Wearing. She was part of a workshop meeting people who work for and used its services. "It wasn't a passive involvement which I really thought was important."

Emin offered four works: two self-portraits and two neon signs saying Trust Me and Trust Yourself. She said they were words we often say to others and to ourselves. "Sometimes such statements need to be reaffirmed. The use of neon makes it all the more positive."

The two self-portraits, Deep Blue III and Deep Blue V, are part of a series Emin created for her forthcoming show at Turner Contemporary in Margate, in which she explores the idea "of the body becoming older, self-loathing and the notion of self-preservation".

Emin said she did not do anything different because the show was for Crisis. "I'm quite impressed at what a big show it is and how serious it is and not just a charity event."

Gormley has made a cast iron sculpture of a person we assume to be homeless. "The most challenging social sculpture of our times is made by the quiet performances of the homeless within the shelter provided by the doorways of the shops of our inner cities."

He said he was trying to evoke a fallen body which is, nevertheless, not at rest. "This exhibition allows one to think about those bodies that have no place. I believe that sculpture can powerfully evoke the nameless, the voiceless and the placeless."

The Crisis Commission show raises money and awareness at a crucial time, says the charity. After years of declining trends, 2010 represented a turning point when all forms of homelessness began to rise. In 2010/11, 3,975 people slept rough in London, an 8% rise on the previous year.

The show runs until 22 April and will also feature work by homeless and vulnerable people who have been helped by Crisis.

The charity's chief executive Leslie Morphy said: "We are thrilled that so many leading contemporary artists are participating in the Crisis Commission. This prestigious event will raise much needed funds for our work and bring a new focus to the worrying current rise in homelessness in society."

Other works in the show include Yinka Shonibare's Homeless Man, 2012, which shows a vibrantly dressed Victorian man weighed down by 11 suitcases. The artist said: "The idea of the work is to suggest that any privileged person can become vulnerable at any time due to circumstances outside of their own personal control, such as illness, death of a relative, war or unfortunate economic circumstances."

The artist Bob and Roberta Smith (also known as Patrick Brill) has made a piece called Kite because of its association with isolation and the elements. "My kite has 'help' written on it. It is a cry for help by the person flying it."

Brill said he was aware of homelessness rising and taught in an art school where some of his students are homeless. "Homelessness is about isolation. Homes are not just roofs and walls – they are networks – about nurture and care."

The show has been curated by Laurence Sillars, chief curator at the Baltic in Gateshead and the cost of creating the works has been met by GlaxoSmithKline. All of them will be auctioned at Christie's on 3 May. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 04 2012

'I've always been a bit of a listener'

As her forthcoming Whitechapel show illustrates, the artist has a rare talent for persuading people to disclose their private thoughts. So why is the former Turner prize winner reluctant to reveal what troubles her?

On the way to meet Gillian Wearing in her studio in Hackney, east London, I'm sitting on the top deck of the 55 bus, listening to the troubles of the young woman behind me, who is talking into the phone, unaware or uncaring who hears. It's a version of the drama you can tune in to most days on public transport, the intimacies of life and love turned casually outward. In this episode, the woman's man has left her and taken up with her friend, and she's been trying to sell a bag he gave her for Christmas on eBay. "I'm not going to use it no more," she's telling another mate, and her fellow travellers, "but I'm not just gonna give it away neither." The problem is, I've heard several times already, because it's Prada and she doesn't have the receipt her buying public thinks it's knock-off. The current bids are taking the piss, because at £400 it's still a bargain. She had a woman contact her asking for more details of the purchase but she can't get that off her bloke, since no way she's calling now he's with that slag. She said she would take the woman down to Selfridges and get them to verify it. By the time I reach my stop I would happily vouch for the bag's authenticity myself.

There has been a lot written about the death of privacy in our hyper-connected world, but one certain casualty of our mediated lives is the sanctity of public space, the generational erosion of the idea that what you might want to tell your best mate you wouldn't necessarily expect strangers to want to hear. Twenty years ago, the bus journey would have been made without that voiceover. Twenty years ago, after Gillian Wearing graduated from Goldsmiths College, the year behind Damien Hirst, she was already quietly obsessed with that shift in propriety and candour and was among the first to anticipate and dramatise its implications.

Wearing's studio is in a side street beside the Regent's Canal in east London. Her partner and fellow ageing Young British Artist Michael Landy, who famously destroyed all of his possessions in an Oxford Street shop in 2001, has a suitably minimalist space downstairs. She works above, in a white room strewn with artificial flowers she is arranging in a homage to Brueghel still lifes.

Wearing is friendly, slightly awkward, looking inquisitively at me from beneath her trademark black fringe. When we sit down, on a pair of retro 70s chairs, I mention to her the bus conversation and wonder whether she thinks it is a good or bad thing that those public and private boundaries have been irretrievably blurred. On the whole, she likes the fact.

"I think media has changed us all," she says, referring to the shift from red telephone boxes to uninhibited mobile conversations, from passive TV to active camcorder and self-broadcast, from green-ink letters to webchat. "It has all created a bigger democracy, I would say. More people have a voice."

Wearing's first landmark work was quite a quaint exercise in exposing interior lives to the world. She approached people at random on London streets and asked them to write down on a piece of card what was on their minds. She then photographed them holding the signs. The images were surprisingly revealing, intentionally and not – the City worker with thinning hair who scrawled "I'm desperate", the black policeman who wrote "Help". They not only gave her subjects a voice, they gave viewers an instant snapshot of worlds of interiors. Some of Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say will be included in Wearing's compelling retrospective, which opens at the Whitechapel Gallery at the end of the month. I wonder how she sees them herself, now?

"Well," she says, "when I did them it was a million miles away from where we are now. In 1992, we were still being fed this line that British people are reserved and don't like to express what they are feeling. The idea of Signs is that if you approached anyone they would have something interesting to say. I never picked people. If they grasped the idea I was making art rather than a survey, then they tended to be intrigued."

Subsequently, Wearing dreamed up many other situations in which people could reveal more or less of their private selves. On the Monday before we met, I'd been sitting in a screening room at the Whitechapel watching some of these films on a loop. For her Confess all on video. Don't worry you will be in disguise. Intrigued? Call Gillian… series, Wearing placed an ad in Time Out and invited people to come into a studio, put on a disguise and spill their guiltiest secrets. A 36-year-old virgin tells how watching his sister kiss his brother destroyed his life; a woman describes how she drugged and robbed the man who cheated on her; others in Neil Kinnock or George Bush masks own up to using prostitutes, or ghastly revenge on bosses.

Her subsequent films play with different ideas of self-revelation; for 10-16, she taped adolescent boys and girls talking about their fantasies and fears and then had adult actors lip-synch them, as if the authentic voice of a child within. In 2 into 1, she put the breathtaking cruelty of twin boys talking about their mother into the mother's mouth and vice versa. In all the films, you have the voyeur's sense of too much knowledge, of uncomfortable privacies invaded. Over the years, Wearing seems to have been able to get all sorts of people to open up to her. Why does she think that might be?

"I don't think I have any particular thing," she says, quickly. "I just found ideas that people relate to and they enjoy doing it. Facebook and Twitter are there for similar reasons, because people want to have their voices heard beyond friends and family."

She doesn't keep in contact with any of her subjects, and though they have been invited to the shows in which they anonymously star, she is not sure how many have come. One or two have later expressed their gratitude, though, she says, "for the opportunity to say things that they hadn't been able to express to other people before".

Wearing does not see her art as therapeutic, as such, or even particularly voyeuristic. It arises, she suggests, out of the "sense that it is better to speak than to hold things back". She has been strongly influenced by the sociology of Erving Goffman, author of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, in which he details the ways that we have "front-stage and backstage personalities, that we perform all the time, when we walk down the street, when we go into a shop. And when we are behind closed doors we go into a bit of a slump". Not surprisingly, Wearing has been a devotee of reality television since pioneering 60s documentaries such as Michael Apted's Seven Up!, right through to the latest incarnation of Celebrity Big Brother, which, she believes, "though it has become more about entertainment, still holds a mirror up, to a degree".

It would be fair to say, then, that Wearing likes the idea of what she calls people "speaking freely in a lit room". But the more I speak to her, it is hard to escape from the sense that, though quite practised, she finds that particular process quite unnatural herself. When she has been interviewed in the past, she has dwelt on her own inarticulacy. Now 48, she talks 10 to the dozen, but rarely in fully formed thoughts. Ideas come and go likably, but she is always quick to qualify and disown definitive statements about her own life. "I suppose I was always a bit of a listener," she suggests, "because I didn't speak a lot when I was younger. I couldn't string a sentence together, wasn't able to for some reason. I guess I was maybe drawn to people and language, how people express themselves."

There is a journalistic impulse to all Wearing's work. She uses the apparatus of interview and documentary and, like all journalists, she seems drawn back to subjects that not only help her explain the world to her audience, but also offer a way for her to explain herself to herself. In one way, her career looks a lot like a series of brilliant strategies to communicate an inner life by proxy. She has always been the antithesis of her contemporary Tracey Emin, who is all about shocking revelation. Wearing seems rather at pains to disappear from her art, to let others do her talking. Partly, I wonder if this reticence has something to do with the place she fell to earth.

I grew up at the same time as her in a different part of Birmingham, her home city. My mum taught very briefly at the school she attended, Dartmouth High, which experimented with large class sizes and which Wearing hated. In the 70s and 80s, Birmingham often felt a curiously alienated place, one that had lost its sense of identity, its industrial purpose.

"It was a sort of introverted city," she agrees, "at least then, but I didn't leave it because of that; I left because I couldn't get a job there." Wearing had two hairdresser friends who wanted to come to London and, at 17, she came with them, living in bed and breakfasts in King's Cross. Having failed with hundreds of unsuccessful dear sir or madam job applications at home, in London she found secretarial and temping work easily.

She was 21 before she even had a thought in her head about art. Until then, her only memorable creative act, she says, was the time when, aged 11 or 12, a teacher held up a mask she had made in front of the class and said it was good. But she dropped art in the third year of school and never thought about it until she got a clerical job at an animation studio in Soho's Golden Square. She was intrigued by the animators painting film cells, and when she wondered how they got to do it, they suggested art school. To her surprise, she was accepted to do a foundation course at Chelsea, on the basis of a few sketches she had done of her hairdresser friend, Kimberley (they drew at nights in the hostel they lived in, because there was no TV).

From there, she went to Goldsmiths. On the first day, her tutor sat her class down and said that the reality was that none of them would ever be a practising working artist and to manage expectations accordingly. She was lucky enough to be in the Saatchi and Sensation generation that overturned that idea. Having been reluctant to adopt any particular public persona, Wearing suddenly found herself in the role of Young British Artist and then Turner prize winner in 1997. Most of her work foregrounded other lives; when she stepped into the frame, it was as an entirely elusive presence. Her great video, Dancing in Peckham, saw her bopping wildly in a shopping centre, to music only she could hear; her Homage to the woman with the bandaged face who I saw yesterday down Walworth Road, saw her mummifying her features, walking down the high street and filming people's reactions.

The sense of Wearing being there and not there, of riddling objectivity, became a theme. In 2003, she began making the self-portraits that are the most haunting manifestation of her interest in masks and personae. She took her family photo album and painstakingly recreated some of its images using highly realistic wax mannequins, from within which her own eyes look out. She began with her grandmother, who had passed away, and went on to recreate portraits of her mother and father, her brother as a teenager, brushing his waist-length hair, her sister in a photo booth, and herself both at three years old and as a spirited-looking 17-year-old. The pictures have an obsessive-compulsive quality; each one took around four months to make.

When I wonder what her family made of the strangeness of the project, she seems slightly surprised by the question, as if it hadn't occurred to her. "They had to be measured [for the mannequins]," she explains. "So they knew all about it and I think they liked it. I had done my grandmother who was no longer around. So my mother was the first who was alive. She thought it was fine."

But how unnerving was it to look at the world from within the facsimile bodies of her family?

She can't or won't say: "Well, you have technical things to concern yourself with," she suggests. "It was such a long process. You are getting blouses made, bits and pieces sorted out. You are trying the mask on without the paint. You are spending a lot of time with it, doing lighting tests and so on, with the mask on a pedestal."

The impulse itself, the motivation for making these things, she is reluctant to discuss. I wonder if she felt a loss of identity when she looked at the finished photographs. Was it herself or her mother she was looking at, for example?

"You always feel that you are the mask to some degree," she suggests. "The photo of my mum I used was from before I was born, when she was 23. She was this quite innocent, optimistic young woman, I think. You are trying to get that across, somehow. I mean, my eyes are the only thing I have to use, but I try to make them as hopeful and young as possible," she says, with a laugh.

Last year, Wearing made her first full-length film, a discomforting documentary focused on method acting, called Self Made. Once again, she placed an advert for non-actors, asking for people who "wanted to play themselves or somebody else in a film". After auditions, she filmed her half-dozen candidates exploring their deepest anxieties with the method coach Sam Rumbelow. They then role-played in turn their innermost trauma – the hatred they felt for an unloving parent; the scars of childhood bullying; the legacies of domestic violence. The resultant acted scenes, both real and not real, are almost too painful to watch. The film is edited with an emphasis on the loneliness of each of the actors, the way they are shut inside their heads, and the way the method allows some catharsis.

Was Wearing tempted to put herself through the method process?

She was, she says, "but I knew Sam first so it got difficult".

I'm struck, I suggest, by the contradiction between her fascination with other people's interior lives and her apparent lack of interest in analysing her own. Does any part of her see Self Made, as well as her earlier work, as a strategy for self-understanding?

"Understanding me?" she says. "As opposed to understanding the people I am working with? I don't think so. I don't think it is about me. With the adverts I put out, it is clear I am not looking for anyone specifically. So I don't think necessarily I am looking for me, out there."

But she seems so keen to remove herself from the story that you are curious about her own anxieties. When she looks back at herself as a girl, did she imagine she would one day have a family herself?

"When I played with dolls, I was always an auntie rather than a mum," she says. "I remember my friend's brother when he was 13 saying, 'I am going to be a chemistry teacher.' I didn't have that kind of plan."

Given that her work dwells so closely on the love-hate of family relationships, has it been a regret not having children, or a kind of Larkinesque relief?

"It was more if it was going to happen then it was going to happen," she says. "It's not a regret because that is the way life is."

Were any of those feelings present when, approaching 40, she reinhabited a mask of her own mother, at 23?

"No," she says, "I didn't think that at all. It's more, when I first looked at the photograph of my mother I thought, 'That's my mother', straight away. But of course she wasn't my mother then. It's like you have certain expectations of what your family should do for you. But in that piece, I was trying to look at them as individuals. To see them in isolation."

Wearing suggests her mother has always been "loving and supportive" of her and her work. She is more circumspect about her father, who she chose to recreate in a formal portrait in a dinner suit, as a young and handsome man. Brian Wearing died in 2005, not long after that photograph was taken. Was she as close to him as she was to her mother?

"Not as much, no."

What did he do?

"He had a little shop where he sold televisions and radios."

He was more distant?

"There was a little bit of separation between my parents, though they didn't divorce until many years later. But I didn't have the upbringing where I got to know him that well. No."

Somewhere in that "no" I find myself rehashing some of the more painful unburdening of Wearing's subjects in Self Made. It's certainly where her method coach might begin his session. But perhaps, as she might suggest, I'm projecting. Before I leave, I ask why she has become interested in recreating Brueghel's flower paintings.

"I liked the fact that when he painted flowers," she says, "he painted them all individually and then put them together. I called the first one People; it's like every one is unique, you know, they are not kind of a bunch." Some flowers reveal all of themselves at once and some hardly open up at all. But then, as Wearing seems instinctively to know, there are a hundred different ways to display your self to the world. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Private lines: Gillian Wearing's signs – in pictures

The artist is showing at the Whitechapel Gallery and you can submit your own 'sign' to win a VIP trip to the exhibition

Gillian Wearing - in pictures

Images from some of the former Turner prize-winning artist's work

January 28 2012

Feelgood art: the pick-me-up to get us through an age of anxiety

British artists used to delight in shocking audiences, but now many are involved in projects intended to cheer people up

Young British artists once rocked the world with a volley of pickled animal cadavers, unmade beds and flicking light switches. But now, against the backdrop of a grim economic climate, some of the movement's biggest stars appear to be concentrating on cheering us all up.

Feelgood artwork is everywhere, from the life-affirming London Underground project of Michael Landy, who has invited commuters to log incidents of kindness, to the uplifting public art commissioned for the top of bus shelters to herald the Olympics.

"There is a second world war kind of thing going on about 'keeping the home fires burning' at the moment; a bit of 'keep calm and carry on' art, if you like," said the Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller this weekend as he prepared for the opening of his retrospective show, Joy in People, on London's South Bank next month. However, his own work, as he explains, is not intended as a simple pick-me-up.

"The title of my show is apparently positive, but the show itself isn't all positive. There is anger and there is frustration too," he said.

Other leading artists, such as Martin Creed and Tracey Emin, who established their careers with work on challenging themes, are now producing art that urges their public to think positive thoughts. "Don't Worry", reads Creed's neon work, while several of Emin's recent neon signs are equally direct, reading "Trust Me" and "I Keep Believing in You". The Turner prize-nominated artist Mark Titchner is one of those to contribute to Bus Tops, a Cultural Olympiad project which has seen inspirational digital commands such as "Act or be Acted Upon" and "If you don't like your life, you can change it" adorning London bus shelters.

Much of this work is tongue-in-cheek, or at least invites a few questions, but the overall effect is to emphasise the better things about human existence.

"When times are difficult, values are going to be questioned," said Ralph Rugoff, director of the Hayward Gallery. "You look again at what's important and at what's less important in life. It is usually a time when culture and art can play an important part, whereas in a boom period there is too much focus on the hype around the boom and on all the alluring baubles it holds out before us."

Rugoff, who is staging the Deller show and an exhibition of the wry sketches of David Shrigley, is clear that art should not be regarded as "a nice sedative we can take together … What it can do, though, is function as a catalyst and bring people together. Art can connect them in new ways."

On Tuesday, a group of artists including Gillian Wearing, Antony Gormley, Yinka Shonibare and Jonathan Yeo are to launch a more practical response to the financial slump. The group are staging a major exhibition in London this spring that will raise money for the homelessness charity Crisis. "Art reflects on situations in ways that cold hard facts can't," said Wearing, who won the Turner prize in 1997. "It tries to make sense of the world subjectively, whereas facts tend to ignore our subjectivity."

Her partner is Landy, and she explains that the idea behind his Acts of Kindness on the London Underground came to him before the financial crisis took hold. "For me it was powerful that an artist was working with kindness, something that we easily overlook," she said this weekend. "It actually inspired some works of mine, including the one for the Crisis Commission, where I wanted to look at people who have overcome difficulties in life and have become heroes."

But on the weekend when film-maker Danny Boyle, director of the Olympics opening ceremony, announced his Isle of Wonders theme, Deller for one is decidedly grumpy about the pressure to be jolly in preparation for the summer. "The Olympics, of course, is something that will attempt to brainwash artists into expressing positive things," he said. "Some will. But I am the kind of person who will try and do the opposite. I find these big cultural and sporting events unbearable."

In 2009 Deller invited London Underground staff on the Piccadilly Line to help him produce a booklet of quotes called What is the City But People. The booklet aimed "to generate a more positive atmosphere during peak times", but his best known work also tackles the violent 1984 confrontations between striking miners and police and the Iraq war. His recent work What It Is, the remains of a car destroyed at Al-Mutanabbi book market in Baghdad, will be in the new exhibition.

"Historically, art began by giving people what they needed, as it was tied up with religion. Now it is much more fragmented and it can be about how miserable and rotten things are," he said. His own collaborative work with the public is born of the fact that he is not traditionally trained, Deller suggests, as much as it is due to his belief and interest in people.

"At its simplest, I would say art is another way of looking at life, or perhaps another way of dealing with it."

Deller points out that BritArt started under a Conservative government "in difficult times" and was later "appropriated by the Blair regime".

"At that point it did all become a bit celebratory," he said.

For several young artists the benevolent act of making communal art has become part of the reason for doing it. Max Dovey, 23, is one of the artists featured in the 2012 Catlin guide to the 40 most promising art school graduates. "Apart from one or two notable exceptions, the response by new artists to the recession hasn't been as political or aggressive as one might have expected," said Justin Hammond, who wrote the guide. "Looking at the selected artists, there's a lot of humour running through the work though, and Max Dovey's work is very much about encouraging communication and embracing the idea of community."

"The Emotional Stock Market, which was the piece I did last year, was about trading well-being as a commodity like shares," said Dovey, who is from Bristol and lives and works in south London. "There was a lot of political talk about moving away from gross domestic product to valuing how people were feeling, and my piece was a satire or a comment on that. We tracked the levels of well-being by looking at status updates on Facebook and at Twitter to see how many were happy or sad, and then we traded them in live performance."

Dovey argues that there is a new growth of "careful art" among contemporaries who are making community projects. "Artists don't want to shock or upset. There is more interest in how art makes people feel and the experience of art has become at least as important as the practice of it." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 29 2011

The arts in 2012: visual arts

Adrian Searle picks his highlights of the year ahead

Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011; Tate Modern retrospective

Fancy a world trip? All Gagosian's 11 galleries, from London to Hong Kong, will be filled with Hirst Spot paintings in January. This dotty explosion is a mere aperitif to Tate Modern's retrospective in April. How much of what he's done over the last quarter decade really makes the grade – and how much is hype? The Complete Spot Paintings, Gagosian, London, 12 January to 18 February. Details: Damien Hirst, Tate Modern, London SE1, 5 April to 9 September. Details:

David Shrigley: Brain Activity

Shrigley's cartoons, photographs and animations are painful, violent, nihilistic, appalling and very often hilarious. Frequently emulated but never bettered, his humour is as dark as it gets. Hayward Gallery, London SE1, 1 February to 13 May. Details:

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture

Returning to Yorkshire, Hockney has swapped the sprinkled lawns and sunny pools of southern California for muddy fields, stands of beeches, and plain-air painting on brisk northern days. He is a great draughtsman and his art can be very atmospheric, sexy and sophisticated. I am more curious than hopeful about his later work. Royal Academy of Arts, London W1, 21 January to 9 April. Details:

Gillian Wearing

Wearing's photographs and films dig under the skin of everyday life. She is much more interesting than the confessional humiliations of reality TV, conflating a mania for self-exposure with a lightness and human touch, deft humour and a sense of life's pathos. Whitechapel Art Gallery, London E1, 28 March to 17 June. Details: 020-7522 7888.

Tino Sehgal

Dancing gallery attendants, art-history kisses, conversations with precocious children: Sehgal's art is one of live confrontation and surprise. The Turbine Hall commission goes to an artist whose work is as social as it is theatrical. Tate Modern, London SE1, 17 July – 28 October.

Yoko Ono

How substantial an artist Ono is remains a question, though her impact on contemporary art has been described as "enormous". Her delightful small gestures, vulnerability and benign silliness can get overlooked. She'll be uploading smiles from around the world for a new work here. Serpentine Gallery, London W2, 19 June to 9 September. Details:

Lucian Freud

More than 100 portraits by the painter, who died in 2011. The subject of many exhibitions, Freud continues to surprise and bewilder, however familiar many of his paintings may be. The longer you look, the weirder and more impressive he gets. National Portrait Gallery, London WC2, 9 February to 27 May. Details:

Documenta 13

This five-yearly keynote show of contemporary art worldwide, held in the German town of Kassel, is like sticking a wet finger in the air to check the wind. Polemical, political, always controversial, Documenta depends on the strengths – and weaknesses – of its invited curators. This time the team is led by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. Kassel, Germany, 9 June to 16 September. Details:

Glasgow international festival

A corrective to Cultural Olympiad madness, this always impressive festival features Richard Wright at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, "performed installations" at Tramway, and Transmission's show of works by anonymous artists. More than 130 artists will show in 50 venues around the only British city outside London with a distinctive scene of its own. Various venues, 20 April to 7 May. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 22 2011

Gillian Wearing wrapping paper

Download today's exclusive gift paper for Gillian Wearing's homage to old paintings and 1970s Milk Tray chocolate boxes …

Gillian Wearing takes inspiration from Bruegel in creating her Christmas wrapping paper

In the latest of our series of Christmas wrapping paper designed especially for the Guardian by leading artists, Gillian Wearing describes how she spent two weeks preparing her bouquet
Download and print Gillian Wearing's wrapping paper

This is a repeated pattern from a photograph I took this year. It's based on a Bruegel painting and I called it People, in homage to those old paintings in which every flower is treated like an individual. I had to source a lot of fake flowers for my bouquet, as there are plenty of bad ones on the market. I initially worked with a florist, then realised I had to do it myself – because I wanted it to look very particular. It took me two weeks; there was a lot of playing with wires and florist's foam, getting each flower to have its own space and still work as a whole.

As a pattern, it has a certain hypnotism. It almost has the shape of a Christmas tree when it's in repeat: you can't really see what it is. I didn't make this specifically for Christmas, but it makes me think of those 1970s special edition Christmas gift chocolate boxes, like Milk Tray, which were based on classical paintings of flowers or landscapes. They remind me of Christmas more than tinsel does. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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