Gillian Wearing has made a successful career as an artist that spans decades from creating candid photos and videos that reveal the disconnect that exists in people’s personal and inner lives versus their public personas or what they show the rest of the world. Her works also highlight the disconnect between individuals and their societies, as well as the thin line that exists between truth and fiction.
Influence and background
Largely influenced by reality television, the pretense of theatre, and documentaries, Gillian primarily features herself as well as the people she encounters in day to day life, whether on the street or through ads that she places in newspapers, as the subjects of her work.
Born in Birmingham, United Kingdom, Gillian was not always as outspoken as is she is as an artist as a young girl. Her inability to express herself and voice her opinions plays a major role in her work. After pursuing art for a few years, she applied to the Goldsmiths, the University of London where she studied art education. Her big break came when she won the Turner Prize in 1997 for her 2 films titled Sacha And Mum1, 1996 and 60 Minutes Silence2, 1996.
Signs, also known as Signs that Say What You Want Them to Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say, was done between 1992 and 1993. To create it, Gillian confronted a number of strangers and individuals and asked them to write their opinions and thoughts on blank cards/signs before photographing the participants holding the signs.
Gillian interviewed over 500 participants
In total, Gillian interviewed and photographed over 500 participants that she had encountered in the streets of London. Though this project was not her first photographic venture, it was the first time that she featured complete strangers as her subject matter.
Because Gillian confronted a series of strangers to create Signs, the opinions that she received were brutally honest and real, and even funny in some instances. Basically, Gillian undertook the project to demonstrate that if you approached a bunch of strangers on the street and asked them to share their thoughts, each one of them would have something interesting and unique to say.
Video: Curator introduction to Gillian Wearing
2 min 37 sec
With this project, Gillian was hoping to prove the stereotype that British people are typically cold and unapproachable. Although several individuals did not respond favorably, Gillian was surprised, and pleasantly so, by the number of people who were willing to participate. The project did a great job of celebrating the nuances and idiosyncrasies that make individuals who they really are.
All images by Gillian Wearing unless otherwise noted.