Sacha and Mum is a black and white video with sound which may be shown either on a large monitor or as a projection. It was made in an edition of three plus one artist’s proof which is Tate’s copy. The video consists of a four and a half minute loop. Wearing edited her original video footage on computer so that picture and sound play alternately backwards and forwards. The work depicts a mother and daughter locked in an emotional and physical struggle. Wearing employed two actresses and filmed them in a friend’s bedroom. She choreographed the episode carefully. ‘Sacha’, the daughter, is clad only in a white bra and pants, rendering her more vulnerable than her mother, whose body is hidden and protected by a floral dress. The footage begins with the two women embracing but this quickly turns to violence, as the mother pulls her daughter’s hair, forcing her head back and forth vigorously as she kneels on the ground. The women alternately exchange tenderness and aggression, culminating in Sacha’s face being covered with a towel that is both a protective mask and possible means of suffocation. The original sounds recorded during the episode are amplified. Coupled with their being played in reverse, this has resulted in disturbing, loud and rasping, out-of-breath noises of sobs, grunts and murmurs that are impossible to identify. The difficulty the viewer will experience in disentangling the loving from the abusive gestures reflects the confusion frequently felt in family relationships where love and hostility may be hard to separate. This ambiguous mixture of tenderness and cruelty echoes what is perhaps experienced by those who are abused physically or psychologically by family members whom they love and trust. Wearing circled the women as she filmed them, enhancing the claustrophobic feel of their relationship.
The shockingly visceral psychological relationships in families is a theme portrayed more or less overtly in several video works by Wearing. In 2 into 1 1997 (Maureen Paley, Interim Art, London) Wearing filmed a mother and her two sons talking about each other and then lip-synched the footage so that the mother’s words come from the sons’ mouths and vice versa. As well as revealing mother and sons’ emotional and psychological intimacy with disturbing frankness, the work shows the extent to which children learn unconsciously from and are conditioned by their parents. In 10-16 1997 (Tate T07593) Wearing used lip-synching to make eight adults speak in the voices of seven children and adolescents from the ages of ten to sixteen, creating a moving juxtaposition which suggests that wounded or damaged children may inhabit apparently normal adult bodies.
Wearing has been working with video and photography since the early 1990s, typically approaching strangers on the street, or through classified advertisements in newspapers and magazines, to use their voices and their stories to reveal hidden aspects of their personalities. Inspired by fly-on-the-wall documentaries, which record individuals inside their own homes, and experimental social analyses such as Michael Apted’s television series Seven Up (made for BBC and Granada television and begun in 1964), Wearing’s works explore the slippage between private identification and public expression, between those aspects of themselves which people try to hide, and those which they are willing or able to reveal. She has commented: ‘A great deal of my work is about questioning handed-down truths ... I’m always trying to find ways of discovering things about people, and in the process discover more about myself.’ (Quoted in The Turner Prize, [p.10].) Sacha and Mum is one of the first works in which Wearing used actors to follow her script, rather than asking members of the public to tell (or show) her something of themselves. She likens the process of editing video on the computer to painting, and has said that ‘the editing process ... is the closest thing that you get to the old-fashioned way of making art. I can get quite obsessive about it ... all of a sudden I get totally into it and no one can tear me away.’ (Quoted in Gillian Wearing, p.24.)
Gillian Wearing, exhibition catalogue, Fundación “la Caixa”, Madrid 2001, pp.99 and 102-3, reproduced pp.44-9
Gillian Wearing: Mass Observation, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, Chicago 2002
Russell Ferguson, Donna De Salvo, John Slyce, Gillian Wearing, London 1999, pp.24-5, 59 and 62, reproduced pp.60-1