Gillian Wearing, My Hand, 2012
Thinking back at work seen over the past few months obviously brings Frieze Art Fair back to mind and thinking about Paul Noble’s work in the Turner Prize 2012 exhibition has made me think about sculpture by someone who I mainly associate with two dimensional work, all of which brings me to Gillian Wearing. I’ve written about Wearing a couple of times on this blog (about her work with the confessions of others and the works for which she becomes other people) but I haven’t mentioned her sculpture, in the main because I find it less interesting, I think. Nonetheless, My Hand, shown at Frieze by Maureen Paley, has stayed in my thoughts for some reason and I now find myself wondering why I find this piece engaging.
In part I think it’s because the level of detail makes it strangely fascinating to look at – you can read the lines on the palm or mull over the wisdom of Wearing’s nail polish choices – but there’s also something quite touching about the way it’s presented – on a shelf rather than a plinth – that in a way gives it a feel of a specimen rather than an art work.
Self Portrait at Twenty Seven Years Old, 2012
And of course, in much of her photographic work, Wearing has worked with prosthetic masks as she becomes earlier versions of herself, members of her family or other artists to restage photographs. The hand, sitting quietly on a rather small shelf, makes sense as part of the same continuum of recording, recreating and restaging so, just as Wearing moves between photography and video, the shift to sculpture feels like a small step.
In the photographs, the realism of the masks is counterbalanced by the visible edge at the eye holes so we are aware of Wearing looking out. Obviously, with My Hand such a strategy is neither possible nor necessary; we don’t need to look carefully to understand that we’re looking at a copy, it’s something we immediately understand. That we do give the work a closer look is, for me at least, down to a fascination with the perfect nature of that copy.