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Jane and Louise Wilson interview: 'We live in a very monitored culture'

The art twins talk about surveillance and sisterhood as they prepare for their first London exhibition in four years

'Face Scripting: What Did the Building See?', 2011

© the artists. Courtesy Paradise Row

'Face Scripting: What Did the Building See?', 2011

© the artists. Courtesy Paradise Row

'Blind Landing, H-bomb Test Facility, Oford Ness, Suffolk, uk', 2013

© the artists. Courtesy Paradise Row

'The Toxic Camera, Konvas Autovat', 2012

© the artists. Courtesy Paradise Row. Image by TAPE

'False Positives and False Negatives (6)', 2012

© the artists. Courtesy Paradise Row

'Atomgrad (Nature Abhors A Vacuum) II', 2010

© the artists. Courtesy Paradise Row

Turner Prize-nominated siblings Jane and Louise Wilson have worked together since 1989, when the non-identical twins presented identical BA degree exhibitions at separate colleges. Since then, they've gained access to spaces normally off-limits to the public - like the former Stasi headquarters in Berlin and an old H-bomb testing facility in Orford Ness, Suffolk - to create highly theatrical film installations soaked in political and cultural history. Their new exhibition brings together photography, film and sculptural work about the fallout of Cold War-era tensions between East and West and our Big Brother society. Highlights include 'Face Scripting: What Did the Building See?', which focuses on the 2010 assassination of a Hamas operative in a Dubai hotel, the haunting 'Atomgrad' series of photographs taken in Pripyat, the workers' town devastated by the Chernobyl nuclear accident and  'False Positives and False Negatives', in which the twins camouflage their faces to confuse CCTV technology. Why have you turned the lens on yourselves?
Jane 'The gift of us being twins was too good to pass up. Especially as the "False Positives and False Negatives" portraits are about identity.'
Louise 'We've used paint to scramble facial recognition software.'

Move over, David Bowie...
Louise 'It's not quite "Aladdin Sane." It's totally military. If you go back to the First World War, they started painting planes with dazzle camouflage.'
Jane 'It's a nod to that idea - it's designed to confuse biometric readings of the face.'

Your show features many works concerned with surveillance. What intrigues you about that?

Jane 'We live in a very monitored culture.'
Louise 'And, as artists, we're interested in the act of looking and being looked at.'

What did it feel like visiting Pripyat?

Jane 'You feel the despair of the place, it's quite unremitting.'
Louise 'But nature has started to reclaim it. The trees are growing through the buildings and it looks in some respects oddly pastoral.' Many of your photographs include a measuring device, a yardstick. Where did that come from?
Louise 'We first encountered one when we looked at the Stanley Kubrick archive. He used them on the sets at Ealing Studios. We just thought these are great because they look almost forensic.'
Jane 'The yard stick became a real focal point for the images. It shows you how a space can be constantly measured and examined.'

You've positioned them in unusual places...
'It became a bit of a challenge to see where we could put them - like on top of a diving board.'

What's it like working with your sister?
'It's quite intuitive because we're so close.'
Louise 'You can trust one another to take care of the work. It's a complete, unified vision.'

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