Confess All On Video. Don’t Worry You Will Be in Disguise. Intrigued? Call Gillian Version II is a colour video lasting slightly under thirty-six minutes that features ten scenes, each showing a disguised person telling a secret in an unedited monologue. All of the speakers are depicted from the shoulders upwards and are heavily lit, so that their strong shadow is projected onto a white wall behind them. In some cases they gaze directly at the camera, while in others they look away. The individuals’ disguises vary in character – some entirely cover their faces with masks, while others wear wigs and other accoutrements, such as sunglasses and a fake beard, but leave their faces wholly or partly visible. The costume elements look cheap and somewhat exaggerated, with the wigs generally being large and the masks sometimes appearing cartoon-like. The confessions vary in length and content and have loose structures, suggestive of improvisation. All relate to sexual acts, crimes or acts of revenge: for example, two speakers discuss experiences of sleeping with prostitutes and one talks about stealing a computer from a school. The voice of an interviewer is heard just once during the work, asking one of the speakers their age.
This is the second version of a work of the same name that was originally produced by the British artist Gillian Wearing in London in 1994. Wearing began the project by placing an advertisement in the magazine Time Out that contained the text that makes up its title (minus the appended ‘Version II’). When respondents met Wearing, she supplied them with a range of costume elements, allowing them to construct a disguise. She then filmed them relating a secret in whatever way they chose. Originally shot in Betacam format, the video was edited and then transferred onto VHS tape. In 1997 Wearing re-edited the work to produce this second version, partly because the sound had deteriorated during the transfer to VHS and partly because during the initial edit she had cut down two of the confessions and she subsequently decided to feature them all at full length, with the result being that the second version is approximately six minutes longer than the first. This later version is considered ‘unique’ in that it was not released as part of an edition, and Tate also owns one copy of the 1994 original (Tate T07329), which was produced in an edition of ten. When exhibited, the work must be shown on a television monitor in a relatively small space measuring approximately 3 x 3 metres, with some form of seating provided, preferably a sofa (see various undated documents, Tate Conservation file).
The title of this work primarily makes reference to the advertisement Wearing used to attract participants, emphasising the fact that the speakers actively chose to contact the artist and appear in her video. Wearing has produced other works in which participants were invited to make statements, including Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say 1992–3, a series of photographs depicting people who each hold a sign bearing handwritten text. Wearing approached her participants in the street, gave them a pen and paper and asked them to present a message. In 1999 she stated that in works such as this one that she produced early in her career she had ‘wanted something that involved collusion’ with members of the public rather than the more passive forms of involvement that are generally experienced by individuals depicted in documentary photography and filmmaking (Donna De Salvo and Gillian Wearing, ‘Interview: Donna De Salvo and Gillian Wearing in Conversation’, in De Salvo, Wearing, Ferguson and others 1999, p.8).
The curator Russell Ferguson has argued that this work simultaneously involves an ‘uncomfortable’ level of intimacy and a feeling that ‘we have heard nothing we can be sure of’, since the speakers could be performing for the camera or simply lying (Russell Ferguson, ‘Show Your Emotions’, in De Salvo, Wearing, Ferguson and others 1999, p.36). Regarding the possibility that the speakers might somehow be performing in this work, Wearing stated in 1997 that ‘I noticed that they had taken time to mull over what they were going to say. One or two actually brought pieces of paper to prompt themselves. Things were set up, and it was ... ambiguous – that is where the art or the fiction came in’ (Wearing in Turner 1998, accessed 2 June 2015).
Grady T. Turner, ‘Gillian Wearing’, Bomb, no.63, Spring 1998, http://bombmagazine.org/article/2129/gillian-wearing, accessed 2 June 2015.
Donna De Salvo, Gillian Wearing, Russell Ferguson and others, Gillian Wearing, London 1999, pp.16, 18–19, 36–7, 39–40, 42, 102, 104–7, 109, reproduced pp.17, 37, 38, 103–5, 107–9.
Gillian Wearing: Mass Observation, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago 2002, pp.21, 30–1, 35, reproduced pp.30–1.
Supported by Christie’s.