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Facial Recognition and the Performance of Identity

To uncover the paradox of the face in its various dualisms, this paper takes up Gillian Wearing’s Self Portrait at Twenty Seven Years Old (2012), as a contemporary work that engages a discourse of surveillance and visibility. Tracing the history of facial identification and modes of classification, this essay draws on a genealogical methodology to locate contemporary instances of biometrics. As a self-portrait, my object of study grounds itself within the discourse of classical portraiture, photography, and the close-up image of the face isolated from the body. Exploring the history of photography as documentation, as well as the plasticity of identity, this essay intends to explore Wearing’s self-portrait as demonstrating a resistance to the increase in biometric technologies and facial image identification.

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Image: Courtesy the artist; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; Maureen Paley, London