A woman dances wildly and ecstatically in a south London shopping centre in the middle of the day. The unrestrained movements of the dance performed by Gillian Wearing, the author of the video, contrast sharply with the architectural structure, which is designed for the sole purpose of getting people to buy. The setting shows the same detachment as the people moving around inside it. The reactions to the artist’s performance are cold and uninterested, with no interaction whatsoever on the part of the passers-by. Gillian Wearing focuses once again in Dancing in Peckham on the moment when an emotive universe often concealed in the everyday life of society is suddenly revealed. The video is based on an episode witnessed by the artist one evening during a jazz concert, when she was struck by a woman dancing wildly among the spectators, completely detached from the rhythm of the music and her surroundings, moving in a separate world all of her own. It is precisely this moment of liberation and loss of control that the artist seeks to capture in her work and thus call into question the "normality" of an everyday existence constantly subject to precise social norms and constraints.
The complexity of human relations is one of the central themes of Gillian Wearing’s work. The artist draws inspiration from television documentaries and soap operas, which she repeats with real people. In videos like Drunk (1999), which presents four homeless people, and Signs That Say What You Want Them to Say and Not Signs That Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say (1992–93), consisting of spontaneous interviews with passers-by, she invites people to put into words things that are normally kept silent. The camera is the technical tool both of documentation and of staging, bringing to light hidden aspects of society experienced only in private and concealed in public behind a mask of self-defence. Even in her works, however, the degree to which the subjects actually expose themselves remains an open question. Every presentation of the self to others is also a representation, and representation of the self always takes into account the presence of an audience (and the camera), thus remaining at the level of exhibition.
Gillian Wearing (Birmingham, 1963) is a member of the group of Young British Artists, including figures like Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Douglas Gordon and Tracey Emin. A winner of the Turner Prize in 1997, she has held solo shows at the Kiasma Museum for Contemporary Art in Helsinki, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Goetz Collection in Munich and the Serpentine Gallery in London. She has also taken part in group shows at the Collezione Sandretto Rebaudengo in Turin, the K 21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Works by the artist are included in the collections of the Galleria d´Arte Moderna in Turin, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, the Kunsthalle in Hamburg, the MART in Trento and Rovereto and the MUSAC Leon (Spain) as well as the Goetz Collection in Munich.