Autopsies of Surveillance
2 Into 1
(Gillian Wearing, 1997)
To understand the extend of parents’ control over their own children, the English artist Gillian Wearing produced, in collaboration with a mother and her two children, the video project 2 into 1 (1997) [see video above]. In it she filmed a mother and her two children, each separately, and asked them to talk about each other. Contrary to straight documentary practices, Wearing juxtaposes the images of the mother with the children and lip-synched the footage so that the mother’s words come from the sons’ mouths and vice versa. In other projects such as Homage to the woman with the bandaged face who I saw yesterday down Walworth Road (1995) and I Love You (1999), Wearing goes even further by re-staging actual events she witnessed or observed on the street.
In collecting and re-presenting material based on the observation of people in the public and private realm, Wearing (like many other contemporary artists) emulates ethnographic practices similar to the ethnographer in the field who produces knowledge from an intense, intersubjective engagement. In 1996 the art critic Hal Foster identified this turn in artistic practices as “the ethnographic turn.” However, contrary to ethnographic practices, Wearing engages with her subjects in a much more participatory or interactive mode. By attempting to destabilize the relation between the observer and the observed, both during the production and consumption, she attempts to complicate any conclusion based on detached observation in the field. Both sides become involved in the production of knowledge! In short, Wearing’s work radically changes documentary practices that long for objective truths and familiarity into its reverse, the unfamiliar.
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