Sam Taylor-Wood was born in London in 1967. At the age of sixteen, she enrolled in an art school in Hastings, later moving back to London to attend Goldsmiths College. After graduating in 1990, she worked as a bartender and as a dresser at the Royal Opera House; this latter experience would influence her work's unabashed theatricality. Originally a sculptor, she began working in photography, film, and video in the early 1990s. Her first film, 16mm (1993), consists of an isolated female figure gyrating to a steady beat. She explored similar intersections between video, dance, theater, music and film and video in subsequent works, including Killing Time (1994), in which seemingly bored actors wait their turn to lip-synch the lines of different characters from Richard Strauss's Electra. Her photographic work also finds points of intersection with other mediums. The title of Five Revolutionary Seconds (1995–98), for example, refers to her creation of a panoramic image by rotating her camera around a room over that period of time; the resulting image has a narrative quality despite being a static image. In recent years, Taylor-Wood has engaged ideas of celebrity culture in her work. Third Party (1999–2000), a seven-screen video installation at the Hayward Gallery in London, featured pop singer Marianne Faithful and actor Ray Winstone in different one- and two-person scenes of flirtation and ennui, suggesting a party taking place throughout the gallery. Equal parts pathos and humor, the two-minute film Pietà (2001), in which the artist attempts to suspend the Hollywood actor and hard-living icon Robert Downey, Jr. in her arms, also evokes art history.
Since her first show, Killing Time at the Showroom in London in 1994, Taylor-Wood has had solo exhibitions at White Cube in London (1995 and 2001), Kunsthalle Zürich (1997), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. (1999), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid (2000), Centre National de la Photographie in Paris (2001), and Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montréal (2002). In 2002, the Hayward Gallery in London held a mini-retrospective of her work. Her work has appeared in Information Dienst at Kunsthalle Stuttgart (1993), Brilliant! New Art From London at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (1995), Istanbul Biennial (1997), Johannesburg Biennale (1997), ICA Biennial of Independent Film and Video at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (1997), Venice Biennale (1997), Carnegie International (1999), and Valencia Biennial (2001). Her film Expanding Pictures (1997) was broadcast on BBC2 in 1997. Also in 1997, she received the Illy Café Prize for Most Promising Young Artist at the Venice Biennale. She lives and works in London.