Rock ‘n’ Roll at 70
Gillian Wearing at the ICA in Boston

“To age is a sin,” Madonna said recently at her Billboard's Women In Music 2016 speech. Many women seem to feel this way, not just female pop stars over 30. While life expectancy in Western societies keeps increasing, at the same time women are arming themselves more and more in the fight against visible traces of aging. Bodies are rejuvenated with surgery, Botox, and hyaluronic acid; pictures are embellished using Photoshop. Even selfies for Instagram can be spruced up easily via an app. Gillian Wearing does the opposite. Her large installation in the entrance hall of the ICA in Boston confronts visitors with an entire armada of aged versions of herself. She sent self-portraits to people who work with age-processing technology to digitally enhance portraits. The British artist, who was born in 1963 and is represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection, asked them to create a picture of what she might look like at 70. The results differ widely. In some of the pictures Wearing looks dynamic and very young “for her age,” while in others she seems intellectual or depressive. Her hair ranges from black to white-gray, from voluminous to thin. Unlike Cindy Sherman, she relinquished control of her self-portraits. We see how the digital technology experts reacted to Wearing’s photographs, how proficient they are in their craft, and not least of all what their respective vision of old age – and of the portraits they hope to satisfy customers with – is like.

Wearing enlarged these photos and put them on the wall of the ICA as wallpaper. It looks like an augmented page from a surreal high school yearbook. She mounted a framed triptych above it, consisting of a self-portrait from today, a digitally enhances version, and a blank space, which Wearing intends to fill with a portrait taken when she is actually 70. “Rock ’n’ Roll Till I Die!” is emblazoned on the T-shirt of her gray-haired alter ego – a statement that contradicts her drooping shoulders and the sagging corners of her mouth. But given the fact that Mick Jagger still performs past the age of 70, this defiant life motto doesn’t seem that absurd.

Rock ‘n’ Roll 70 questions society’s image of old age and age-appropriate behavior, above all of women. With this work the artist, who received the Turner Prize in 1997, continues her investigation of role models and identity. Since the beginning of her artistic career in London in the early 1990s, the Goldsmiths graduate has explored the relationship between public and private, between fiction and reality. In doing so, she points the camera at herself time and again. In her early self-portraits, she slips into the role of her mother, her father, and her brother. In recent works, Wearing created an “artistic” family album, posing as Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, Claude Cahun, and August Sander – iconic photographers who inspired her work.

Gillian Wearing – Rock ’n’ Roll 70
Until 1/1/2018
ICA; Boston