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Gillian Wearing (born 1963) is an English conceptual artist, one of the so-called YBAs, and winner of the annual British fine arts award, The Turner Prize, in 1997.

Life and work

Gillian Wearing was born in Birmingham. She moved to Chelsea, London to study art at the Chelsea School of Art and later went on to Goldsmiths College. Her work was included in several of the shows which brought the so-called Young British Artists into the public eye, including Brilliant!, held at the Walker Art Center in 1995 and Sensation, held in London in 1997.

Wearing has acknowledged the influence of 1970s English fly-on-the-wall documentaries such as Michael Apted's 7-Up, and many of her works have a similar concern with discovering details about individuals. She has said "I'm always trying to find ways of discovering new things about people, and in the process discover more about myself."

This concern can be seen in one of her best known pieces and her first major work, Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say (1992–93), initially shown at the artists-run London gallery City Racing. This consists of a series of photographs, each showing a member of the public who Wearing had stopped on the street and gotten to spontaneously write something down on a piece of paper. Wearing then photographed the people holding the paper. Some of the results are a little surprising: a smart young man dressed in a business suit holds a sign which reads "I'm desperate", while a police officer has written the single word "Help!". In Wearing's words, "A great deal of my work is about questioning handed-down truths". This piece was so well known as to be virtually completely copied for a British television advertising campaign by Volkswagen. This work was shown in the groundbreaking 1993 exhibition Okay Behavior at 303 Gallery and helped establish her career as well as that of Adam Chodzko, Mathew Hale and Bill Burns.

In 1994, Wearing made a series of videos of people who responded to an advertisement in Time Out asking for people to "Confess all on video". Several people came forward and confessed to various things, some to past wrong-doings, some to on-going vices. All were disguised by wearing comic masks. Also in 1994, Wearing made Dancing in Peckham, a video of herself dancing in the middle of a shopping centre in Peckham.

As well as these pieces which concentrate on individuals, Wearing has made pieces that concentrate on groups of people. One, Sixty Minute Silence (1996) is a video of people dressed in police uniforms sitting as if for a group photograph for an hour. Their initial stillness eventually gives way to fidgeting. Her film Drunk (2000) is of four drunk men staggering around a studio.

In Wearing’s Broad Street (2001), she documents the behavior of typical teenagers, in British society, who go out at night and drink large amounts of alcohol. Wearing shows teenagers partying at various clubs and bars along Broad Street in Birmingham. Wearing follows these teenagers demonstrating how alcohol contributes to their loss of inhibitions, insecurities, and control.[1]

Wearing won the Turner Prize in 1997. She caused controversy with her cover for The Guardian's G2 supplement in 2003, consisting solely of the handwritten words "Fuck Cilla Black". The cover illustrated an article by Stuart Jeffries complaining about the cruelty of modern television.

The themes of modern television were further explored in Wearing's recent project Family History (2006) commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, and accompanied by a publication on the project.

Wearing's partner is fellow British artist Michael Landy.[2]

Gillian Wearing is represented by Maureen Paley in London.


  1. ^ Martin, Sylvia: "Broad Street", Video Art, page 94. Taschen, 2006.
  2. ^ Rachel Campbell-Johnston (2008-10-07). "Michael Landy - the man who had nothing". London: The Times. Retrieved 2008-10-22. 

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