What did Gillian Wearing’s Signs say?

Gillian Wearing - I’m desperate from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – I’m desperate from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Themes of Gillian Wearing’s work

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, as well as 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.

Biography

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.

Gillian Wearing Self-Portrait at 17 Years Old 2003
Gillian Wearing – Self-Portrait at 17 Years Old, 2003

‘Signs’

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.

Gillian Wearing - Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993, installation view at Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2012
Gillian Wearing – Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993, installation view at Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2012

Analysis

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.

Conclusion

With this project, Gillian was hoping to prove the stereotype that British people are typically cold and unapproachable. Although there were a number of individuals that did not respond favorably, Gillian was surprised, and pleasantly so, by the number of people that were willing to participate. The project did a great job of celebrating the nuances and idiosyncrasies that make individuals who they really are.

Photos: ‘Signs’

Gillian Wearing - Best friends for life! Long live the two of us from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – Best friends for life! Long live the two of us from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - Everything is connected in life. The point is to know it and to understand it from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – Everything is connected in life. The point is to know it and to understand it from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - Help from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – Help from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - I hate this world from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – I hate this world from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - I have been certified as mildly insane! from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – I have been certified as mildly insane! from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - I like to be in the country & The last holiday abroad was nice but I can't afford it. from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – I like to be in the country & The last holiday abroad was nice but I can’t afford it. from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - I signed on and they would not give me nothing from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – I signed on and they would not give me nothing from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - I've thought about being a gigolo but I'm worried about the health risk's! from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – I’ve thought about being a gigolo but I’m worried about the health risk’s! from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - Me from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – Me from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - More Love! from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – More Love! from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - My grip on life is rather loose! from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – My grip on life is rather loose! from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - Policeman no bloody good. DO NOT HELP from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – Policeman no bloody good. DO NOT HELP from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - Queer + Happy from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – Queer + Happy from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - The political situation in England is stable from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – The political situation in England is stable from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - Wicked and Wild! from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – Wicked and Wild! from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Gillian Wearing - Work towards world peace from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – Work towards world peace from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993

Book: Gillian Wearing – Signs that say what you want them to say ..

Gillian Wearing - Give people houses there is plenty of empty one's OK! from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – Give people houses there is plenty of empty one’s OK!, 1992-1993 from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, London, UK, Interim Art, 1997, 96 pages, 23 x 15.2 cm., softcover edition of 1500
Photo: Artists’ Books and Multiples/artistsbooksandmultiples.blogspot.com

Gillian Wearing - I believe in reincarnation. I Anne was queen of lower and upper Egypt from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – I believe in reincarnation. I Anne was queen of lower and upper Egypt, 1992-1993 from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, London, UK, Interim Art, 1997, 96 pages, 23 x 15.2 cm., softcover edition of 1500
Photo: Artists’ Books and Multiples/artistsbooksandmultiples.blogspot.com

Gillian Wearing - Good afternoon people from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – Good afternoon people, 1992-1993 from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, London, UK, Interim Art, 1997, 96 pages, 23 x 15.2 cm., softcover edition of 1500
Photo: Artists’ Books and Multiples/artistsbooksandmultiples.blogspot.com

Gillian Wearing - We are the hardcore from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992-1993
Gillian Wearing – We are the Hardcore!, 1992-1993 from Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, London, UK, Interim Art, 1997, 96 pages, 23 x 15.2 cm., softcover edition of 1500
Photo: Artists’ Books and Multiples/artistsbooksandmultiples.blogspot.com

All images by Gillian Wearing/whitechapelgallery.org unless otherwise noted.

Video: Curator Introduction to Gillian Wearing

2min 37sec

Curator Daniel Hermann introduces the Gillian Wearing exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery from 28 March – 17 June 2012.

Related readings

  1. https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/4378
  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/entertainment-arts-43924730/60-minutes-silence-was-gillian-wearing-s-turner-prize-winning-work
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