Review: Masks and masquerades that reveal the self

Installation view of Gillian Wearing's "everyone" at Regen Projects, Los Angeles.
(Brian Forrest / Regen Projects)

Gillian Wearing mines a vein that generations before her -- many of them also women working in photographic media -- have mined, having to do with identity as constructed, multiple, fluid.

Think Cindy Sherman, Eleanor Antin, Yasumasa Morimura and further back, Claude Cahun. It’s not just a fertile vein, but an inexhaustible one. How can we ever know ourselves well enough?

Wearing, based in London and 1997 recipient of the Turner Prize, favors the use of masks and variants on the act of masquerade to summon private confessions.

In both of the recent videos now at Regen (accompanied by some less remarkable sculpture), Wearing enlists ordinary people to speak their stories while occupying alternate versions of themselves.


In one case, men and women from L.A. don expression-muting masks while disclosing their fears and loathings. In the other, more wrenching work, citizens of the West Midlands, U.K., where Wearing grew up, give voice to their future, deceased selves, reflecting back on their lives’ regrets, losses, betrayals and disappointments.

“We Are Here,” titled after and inspired by the posthumous, poetic self-portraits in Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology,” is a haunting and powerful piece of documentary theater.

Men and women, young and old, deliver their preemptive, inverted eulogies mostly facing away from us, as if their vulnerability needed cushioning. The oblique angle, the confessor’s mask, the gloss of fiction -- in Wearing’s work all of these are routes to revelation, effective tools for extracting the aspirations and fears, tender spots and dark holes that comprise the self.

Regen Projects, 6750 Santa Monica Blvd., (310) 276-5424, through Jan. 24. Closed Sunday and Monday.