Social Kaleidoscopes

Gillian Wearing’s Rock ‘n’ Roll 70 at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, consists of digitally enhanced portraits in an investigation of technological advancements and modern day society. The site-specific mural, on view until early 2018, is the first presentation in Boston of Wearing’s work, as organised by Eva Respini, Jessica Hong and Chief Curator Barbara Lee.

The artist is recognised for her photographs and videos that sensitively capture aspects of familial and personal histories. With a foundation depicting strangers on the streets of London and exploring the nuances of identity, Wearing continues to illustrate the intersections of public and private, alongside the performativity of self. Over her career, the practitioner has also taken inspiration from her own life and history, creating sculpted masks of family members to produce eerie self-portraits.

For this recent exhibition, the photographer collaborated with individuals working with digital technologies to create an idea of what her appearance might be at age 70. Printed as a wallpaper, the monumental installation reveals the diversity of the possibilities of a future self. Rock ‘n’ Roll 70 comprises of renderings that differ drastically from one another, which in turn shows the limitations of pioneering technology, the vast range of ways in which identity can be represented, and lastly, the uncertainty of the future.

A framed triptych hangs on top of the wallpaper, consisting of the figure at her current age (50), an enhanced portrait and a blank space reserved for an actual self-portrait in two decades when Wearing reaches the age of the digitally produced portraits. The artist comments on a modern society oversaturated with information and images, particularly on the rise of the “selfie”, to examine the complexities of identities mediated through technology, a topic becoming increasingly urgent.

The installation is featured on the ICA’s Sandra and Gerald Fineberg Art Wall, a space dedicated to site-specific works from leading contemporary figures. The wall is the first encounter for visitors upon entering the building, and located in a glass enclosed lobby, is the most communal area in the museum, a fitting site for Wearing’s piece as it further expands the concept of the public and private spheres.

Gillian Wearing, Rock ‘n’ Roll 70, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, until 1 January 2018. Visit:

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1. Gillian Wearing, Rock ‘n’ Roll 70. Courtesy of ICA Boston.