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National Portrait Gallery: ''Behind the mask, Another mask''

22 May 2017

‘’WHO AM I? Two Artists, Seventy Years Apart, Both questioning identity… Challenging Gender…’’

Whilst in London, we decided to visit the National Portrait Gallery to see the ‘’Behind the Mask, Another Mask’’ exhibition by Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun. As a whole, the work in the exhibition really worked well together in the way in which it was laid out and displayed. We weren't allowed to take pictures so I found a few images online of some of the parts of the exhibition which stood out.

'My Polaroid Years'
 This piece is ‘My Polaroid Years’ by Gillian Wearing 1988-2005. These were presented in a glass cabinet like the one above. Gillian thought of the polaroid’s as a private endeavour rather than an exhibition project. I find this aspect interesting as viewing them in a gallery makes it feel like a piece of art/project, however it seems they weren’t initially taken for this reason. She describes it as an artless experiment examining what she looked like and her age progression. The mood in each range’s from self-consciously performative to everyday. Walking along the cabinet and looking at them all I found interesting as although they were all of the same subject and taken in a similar way there was still images that caught your eye as you were looking at them as a whole.

This is a piece by Gillian ‘Self Portrait at 27 years old’. The element of this I found interesting is the idea of using the photo booth style strip which everyone is familiar with. However, instead of the usual pocket size that we are used to, this was a large-scale print (each photo about A-3 sized) and it was framed. This changes the dynamic and the way in which the photo strip is interpreted, the way she made this large scale and on a gallery wall isn’t somewhere we usually associate a photo strip to be or to be used.  

'Self Portrait As...' Series
These were part of Gillian Wearing’s ‘Self Portrait as…’ series in which she posed as her mother, father, grandmother and grandfather. What stood out to me the most with this work is the scale of them as seen in the photos above. You could see them clearly from the other side of the room, but then also allowed you to get up close to see the detail within them. They are Gillian herself wearing masks of each family member, however from a distance they just look like ordinary portraits of each person. It’s only when you get closer to each print, that you can notice the subtle details that reveal it’s a mask (such as around the eyes). She also had some work similar to this around the room called ‘Spiritual Family’ in which she posed as her artistic heroes which I also found very interesting in the sense that at first glance you can’t tell its actually her in the images. Another element of the mask that were interesting were the development of the masks she used. From you been able to tell clearly its a mask to them looking so realistic it makes you look twice.  
Rock 'n' Roll 70 Wallpaper
The last piece that stood out to me was actually in the last room of the exhibition and it was the ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll 70 Wallpaper’. This were made up of computer generated artists impressions of how Gillian may look at 70. I thought this was interesting as initially you think it’s made up of different images of people. However, when reading about it changes your interpretations of the work. This was an example of work that needed to be experience in person rather than on a screen as the scale of it really impacted you as a viewer.

I found this quote from an interview with Gillian where she talks about this piece of work:
‘The images were mainly altered by forensic and age progression artists so some of them feel very alien to me. But that is what also interests me, how others perceive me. We think of old age as something with very little change occurring, but I wanted to tackle that as an idea of future, the way you would look at a young person and think that’s the future. Why can’t we think of old age in the same way? Some people find it very hard looking at this topic.’ Gillian Wearing Interview//52-insights

Overall, I think this exhibition was up there with one of the best. Every element, from the layout to the framing, worked so well together. Throughout the exhibition you could see the development of the work and quality within the masks changing over the years of Gillian producing the work. With some physical masks also being shown which was also as interesting as seeing them in the photos and the two worked really well together. The element that stood out to me the most was the scale of prints. From smaller ones that allowed the viewer to get up close to the larger scaled prints that made you step back and look. Seeing work in an exhibition like this is an experience you don’t get from looking at it elsewhere.
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