In the age of heavily filtered selfies and alternate realities, an exhibit at Rice University’s Moody Center for the Arts challenges viewers to consider digitally enhanced self-portraiture through a new lens.
In her eponymous exhibition, Gillian Wearing: Rock ‘n’ Roll 70, Wearing asked several digital technology experts to imagine what she might look like at age 70.
Collaborators manipulated Wearing’s self-portraits using artificial intelligence and age-processing technology. The result: a wallpaper installation of digitally-enhanced photographs that covers 51 feet of Moody’s Central Gallery and hazards several guesses at how Wearing, now in her mid-50s, might look in 15 years.
“Portraiture is the oldest art historical genre,” said Alison Weaver, executive director of Moody Center for the Arts. “It has been around since cave paintings, but it has taken on this new relevance because we all have phones in our pockets and we are all putting ourselves out there in the world. We are all taking portraits of ourselves almost daily and putting up selfies of ourselves in Facebook posts and on Instagram.”
To counteract selfie culture and question why youth is held in such high regard, Waring chose not to enhance her beauty, but to embrace and explore the aging process. She also renounced control of her own self-portraits and allowed others to manipulate them, adding fine lines, wrinkles, sun spots, gray hair and even curvature from osteoporosis. The exhibit is as much a meditation on different attitudes toward aging as it is a projection of possibilities for Wearing’s future self.
“We are living in a time where youth is what we admire,” Weaver said. “But as we age, and as we are putting ourselves out there as we age, what does that mean for our presentation to the world and how we face that?”
In the center of the exhibit, Wearing placed a photographic triptych. On the left is a self-portrait at age 50, in the middle is a digitally enhanced photo of what she thinks she will look like at age 70, and the space on the right is blank. Wearing plans to photograph and add the final self-portrait when she turns 70.
“It’s a lot about the identity and the nuances of how we present ourselves to the world, but also about how technology mediates that presentation,” Weaver said. “We are reliant on these technological formats.”
Gillian Wearing: Rock ‘n’ Roll 70 is on display at Rice University’s Moody Center for the Arts, 6100 Main St, MS-480, through August 31. Information: 713-348-2787.
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