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VW stole my ideas, says Turner winner

Paul McCann Media Editor
Friday 12 June 1998 00:02 BST

Gillian Wearing, this year's Turner Prize winner for her Sixty Minutes Silence video of a group of police officers, has accused Volkswagen's advertising agency of plagiarising her work for its latest ad campaign.

She has consulted her lawyers and is planning legal action over the similarities between her work, Signs That Say What You Want Them To Say, and the current VW Golf adverts made by the advertising agency BMP DDB.

Both feature people holding paper signs that express how they really feel in contrast to their appearance.

Ms Wearing is particularly unhappy about the adverts which include a nightclub bouncer holding a sign that says "Sensitive" and its similarity to an image in her work of a policeman holding a sign saying "Help".

Her work also includes someone saying "I'd rather be in the countryside" and the advert has a man on a mountain who'd rather be in the city. Both also feature a surprising businessman.

VW's businessman's sign says "At weekends my name is Mandy". Wearing's work pictures a businessman holding a sign saying "Desperate".

Ms Wearing's lawyers believe she has a case but BMP DDB claims while its creative team were "aware" of her work it took inspiration from a number of sources. Ironically, it claims to have been influenced by a Levi's campaign for its Dockers brand which Wearing also contacted her lawyer over.

BMP also says it was influenced by the video for Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" in which the singer holds up cue cards as he sings.

The advertising agency has told Ms Wearing's solicitor that its solicitors had checked over the work before it was transmitted.

"What really hurts is that it stops me doing my work because people think I'm working for an advertising agency," Ms Wearing said yesterday. "After the Levi's adverts I went out on the streets again and people knew what to expect. If I describe my work to someone they say `oh, like the advert'."

She has been approached in the past by advertising agencies interested in using her work. She is not in principle opposed to the idea, she says, but has yet to find a product that she thinks is appropriate. Now she believes the opportunity to use "Signs" commercially has been taken from her.

"Everyone, or at least lots of people, know the Dylan video. A parody of that would be more in the order of homage. But if you are relatively unknown like me it feels more like being exploited behind your back."

Ms Wearing completed "Signs" in 1992 and 1993 by photographing 600 people in the street. She approached them with a blank sheet and a marker pen and let them write whatever they felt. It was featured in the British Art Show and has also since been widely publicised in magazines and on the Internet.

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