Gillian Wearing © Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London
Offering truths or allowing the omission of truths, Gillian Wearing’s work dances between what we think we see and what we actually see.
Born 1963 in Birmingham, Gillian travelled to London to study at the Chelsea School of Art and later in 1990 pursued a BFA at Goldsmiths.
From squatting in South London to studying the arts, Wearing developed her documentary style photography where she allows the subject to have a level of control over the narrative. In her project, “Signs that say what you want then to say and not signs that say what someone else wants to say” 1992-1993, she asked strangers in the street to write something about themselves on a blank piece of paper and that she then photographed them with. A sharp looking guy in a suit holds a sign saying, “I’m desperate”, and a woman in a blue raincoat holds one saying, “I really like Regent’s Park”. Gillian wanted to learn something about the subject before taking their picture, permitting her to see further into their personality than a photograph would ever allow. She wanted to challenge the voyeur to reevaluate their initial perceptions.
Expanding on this approach to photography, Wearing would go on to create Mask, 1994. She published an ad for strangers to come and confess anything on video while wearing a mask and disguising their voices.
In 1996, she won a Turner Prize for Sixty Minutes Silence where a group of police officers are sat, poised for their photograph but instead we see tiny movements of life, someone sways in the back; another blinks repeatedly. Again, Gillian’s aim to challenge how the viewer observes a scene is at play.
In 2018, Gillian’s statue of the Suffragist Millicent Fawcett was unveiled in Parliament’s Square, becoming the only statue of a woman and the only artwork created by a woman to stand there.
Throughout Gillian Wearing’s career she has shifted the perspectives of the viewed and the viewer, making the audience’s reaction as much a part of the work as the work itself.
By Gabrielle Kynoch