TALKING WITH GILLIAN WEARING
Margareth Madè and artist Gillian Wearing face to face for a subtly revealing performance: the face is a mask.
How many identities can an actor have? Limitless, potentially. The face itself is a mask, flexible and ductile, to put on and take off when the lights turn off. Even Gillian Wearing, who is an artist, has been wearing and creating a few masks in her life. Wearing is one of the Young British Artists, in 1997 she won the prestigious Turner Prize and last year she showed a retrospective of her work at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. The artist is well known for taking photos of herself as Andy Warhol and Diane Arbus. After all, she is deeply interested in one thing: people. Therefore she explores personalities and individual ideas through the tool of portrait. Her photographs and videos show how she can represent the spirit of time through personal expressive urgency and points of view. This time, Wearing met Italian actress Margareth Madè. Madè, who is often referred to as the new Sophia Loren, is an intriguing blend of ethereal traits and Mediterranean intensity. She owes her notoriety to cinema and especially to Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Baarìa” that was nominated to the Golden Globes in 2010. She is also one of the very few Italians chosen for the Pirelli calendar, Margareth Madè appeared in the 2012 edition shot by Mario Sorrenti.
She got to London, headed to the studio that Gillian Wearing shares with her partner Michael Landy, to take part in this performance documented by a series of photographs which flirts with the idea of mutable identity and role-play.
MG Give as an insight about the concept of the story. What’s the idea?
GW I didn’t think of an overall concept. I had been thinking of the mask an actor wears. On the cover Margareth holds a silver stick under her face as if her face were the mask. I had initially wanted to make a silver mask of Margareth’s face but I thought I could achieve a similar effect with silver paint. It was a play on a photograph taken of the artist Charles Ray looking up at his 10 foot female mannequin “Fall 91” he made in 1992, he seems to be looking up in awe and trepidation. The mannequin wears a business power suit of the 90’s and I just thought it would be an interesting homage with a twist to have me in the photograph with Margareth.
MG There are artists like Cindy Sherman that have used their body and features to embody and extract the portrait of the Other rather than the Self. Other artists intead, like for example Diane Arbus, have been representing/portraiting themselves in every subject they were shooting. Where do you stand?
GW I am interested in people, in portraiture.
MG What is the effect of the mask when you are wearing it?
GW Masks can both conceal and give you a sense of liberation as you can embody someone else. Although some are so heavy to wear that I can hardly breath. The acting all comes through the eyes, a mask can portray different moods through the eyes and how you hold your head and shoulders etc.
MG Is the preparation of masks a long process?
GW Some masks take about six months becouse are sculpted and then have to be cast and molded, with hair insertion and paint applied at the final stages.
MG Let’s talk about one of your earliest works named “Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say”: the people you have involved in the streets were completely strangers to you and you were asking them to write something they felt the urgence to express, on a board. Did you imagine they were going to be so “open” and they would have come out with their most intimate thoughts?
GW Yes the response really surprised me at the time, I spent two years on this project because I felt people were saying things that were truly honest and open. So it had a kind of survey/Vox Pop element to it. I look back on it now and some of the signs are as relevant today as they were then, 1992/93 there was a recession.
|MG Nowdays people are used to tell how they feel quite easily to an undefined audience through the social medias. But your work shows that this was a pre-existing need. Or do you think something has changed?
GW Everyone wants to feel they are heard and listened too. No one perhaps normally asked them to comment about themselves or the world around them. But it is a human need to want to express thoughts feelings and now anyone can do that, at any time.MG Do you have unrealized works in your carrer?
GW I always have projects that I would have liked to have made, sometimes I am not committed enough to move it forward and then later I regret that I didn’t do it. But I would not want to go back and do something if I there is now a similar work out in the world. I hate those regrets.TALKING WITH MARGARETH MADÈMG Have you ever worked in close contact with the world of fine arts?
MM It had never happened to me. It has been a whole new experience, very interesting.
MG How was it to get into Wearing’s work?
MM Gillian Wearing is a versatile artist, who uses any means she deems useful to express herself: it’s been not so easy to get in tune with such a special character and the difference with the photographers who deal only with fashion was evident.
MG What’s your relationship with art?
MM I was born in a land that has been home to art since ancient times. I also think the landscape itself in Sicily can be considered work of art.
MG Talking about Sicily, could you share with us some of your memories from childhood?
MM I remember with special warmth my relationship with my grandparents. The long walks we did together down Vendicari beach.
MG To whom do you owe the person you have become?
MM On my development as an actress, my encounter with Giuseppe Tornatore has had the utmost influence.
MG Let’s take a step back again, let’s go back to Gillian Wearing. In one of her first works, titled “Signs that say…”, the artist asked to unknown people to write a message they felt the urgency to express on a little white board. What would you write?