Gillian Wearing (2001) Broad Street

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Upstairs, local girl Gillian Wearing has stolen the show. For her home debut, she has chosen to provide all the thrills and spills of chucking-out time on Broad Street, the noisy pub-and-club strip but a stomach’s throw from the Ikon.

In one of the more meditative frames of this audio-visual onslaught, a solitary reveller can be seen puking on his boots right outside the Ikon Gallery. Maybe he’s an art critic.

Broad Street is the only video installation which ought to have bouncers monitoring admittance. Inside, five screens simultaneously relay the seething, pulsating awfulness of a Birmingham nightclub. The volume is deafening and the atmosphere ugly.

It’s hard to know why anyone would want to endure this when there’s nothing to drink and no chance of getting laid afterwards.

But it is the surreal extremes to which people push themselves which is Wearing’s subject. Observing the flushed faces, the jerky, spasmodic movements and the vacant, unfocused eyes, she makes the revellers look like sinners being roasted in Dante’s Inferno .

Wearing plays Virgil with a video camera, impassively observing without passing judgment. It’s a troubling vision: like a Beryl Cook bacchanal with all the bonhomie drained away. A woman assists her friend with a sparkly crop-top which has worked loose from its moorings: while, opposite, a gaggle of office girls run through the dancefloor motions to the Village People’s ‘YMCA’.

On a facing wall, the camera pans in hard on a single woman, her cigarette clamped in a snarl, as she abandons herself to a private trance with sustenance from Smirnoff and choreography by St Vitus.

The evening wears on and Wearing’s gaze never wavers. A fight breaks out in a corner. Angry tears are shed. The formation dancers progress to that one where everyone sits on the floor and pretends to row immodestly.

The beauty of this is that it’s Birmingham, but it could be anywhere. By homing in on her home town, Wearing has trapped a painful nerve. This is the urban experience, raw and unmediated. I wanted to get out: but none of the taxis was stopping.

Quote from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2001/jul/22/features.review37 accessed 27/12/2011

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