You might have seen the Whitechapel Gallery on the news in the last few days, as Rachel Whiteread’s ‘Tree Of Life’ has been unveiled on the building’s street-facing facade. The front of the building was always intended to have some sort of decoration – the most likely of which would have been a mosaic, perhaps similar to the one which decorates its architectural contemporary in south London, the Horniman Museum, but at the time of the building’s construction the money just wasn’t available. Whiteread’s sculpture is rather dramatic – particularly when the leaves and branches are caught in the bright morning sunlight as they were when I saw them earlier today.
Inside the gallery, most of the space is currently given over to an exhibition of the work of fellow British artist Gillian Wearing, who is known for her striking photographic representations and short films. On the ground floor, the main gallery space is subdivided into plywood-walled rooms, within which some of her videos play. These are striking and disturbing works – ‘Sacha & Mum’ shows a scene of domestic violence, with reversed speech and slow-motion (somewhat reminiscent of a scene from David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’) while ’10-16′ features interviews with young people talking about their issues, but dubbed onto video of adults who are lip-synching their words, including an older woman on a window seat and a naked dwarf in a bath!
The Gillian Wearing exhibition continues on the second floor with the 1992 ‘Signs’ – people photographed in the street holding hand-written signs setting out their innermost thoughts. They’re all very thought-provoking but the two that struck me most were the black police officer holding a sign simply saying “HELP!” and the strikingly handsome young businessman holding a sign with two words written on it that reveals something rather different about him than you might imagine. The exhibition continues through to the next gallery and a series of large photographs in brightly coloured frames – the ‘Self Portraits’ where Wearing dons a series of realistic masks which carry the features of people who have been significant in her life – her grandfather, grandmother, mother and so on. There’s something deeply disturbing and rather macabre about these pieces, looking almost as if she has peeled off their faces and placed them over her own. The show finishs with ‘Confessions’ – a series of confessional booths within which videos play where we hear the voices of people talking about difficult periods earlier in their lives and the guilt and contrition that they feel about these experiences, but where again Wearing dons a mask and lip-synches.
Unfortunately you’ll have to be quick if you want to catch Gillian Wearing’s exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery – it ends this Sunday, 17 June. They are, however, open until midnight tonight. Adult tickets for the exhibition are priced at £9.50.