I found this show to be inspiring and liberating. Tillmans holds a special place in my heart as I remember being deeply affected by his snapshot aesthetic early on in my journey as a photographer.
Seeing his photographs, (which did not look so different from the ones I was getting back from Bonusprint at the time) stuck on a gallery wall back in the 90s, with no frames or text baffled and delighted me. It seems much more ordinary now although several of the students on the visit appeared to find it disorienting. Not knowing where to look can be unsettling and everyone felt ‘disrupted’ by the end. In his own words: “I don’t expect anybody to understand this exhibition. It’s about resonances, and the connections between us.” https://aperture.org/blog/wolfgang-tillmans/
According to the Tate pamphlet, “2017 is not a retrospective. Each room in the exhibition has been specially configured by Tillmans as a personal response to the present moment. Ever conscious of his role as an artist, his work engages us with themes of community and sociability, empathy and vulnerability.”
Tillmans has said that music is at the heart of his work and he wanted to use the space as a form of theatre. His open approach to imperfections allows abstraction to emerge from mistakes. This ensures that the exhibition succeeds in showing us a new way to look at the world. Here is where his casual genius shines through. The interest in the mundane is intense and unashamed and is saved from being trivial by an undercurrent of politicisation. His manifesto of “If one thing matters, everything matters” appeals very much.
His manifesto of “If one thing matters, everything matters” appeals very much.
Points of interest
- Using bulldog clips to weight the prints
- No descriptors so the images have space to be themselves
- Exploration of the capability of photography and printmaking – translating 3D into 2D
- Use of double exposures and juxtapositions (eg severed agave chunk next to newspaper article about the atrocities of IS); creating fragments
- The Truth Study Centre – focused on ‘how constructions of truth work on a psychological and physiological level’
- Some prints very high up on the walls – too small to see – like memories you cannot grasp; the position of the images makes you move around and change your eye line.
- Lots of empty space and reflections
- Collaged layouts with some prints obscured by overlaps
- The feeling of some of the work being unfinished
- Organised by themes but also by colour – doesn’t have to be an elaborate project if you have enough confidence – very liberating. The rooms represent different dimensions of the artist as expressed by some of his world views or interests/ideologies (eg the simultaneity of a life as a sexual being as well as a political being, the importance of safe, inclusive and free spaces for people, fluid borders, connecting the time in which we live now to a broader historical context)
- Acute awareness of fragility – attentiveness to textures and surfaces
- Placing emphasis on the strength of an individual image in the self-curation
From the accompanying pamphlet
“That the image is read as a photographic record, and not the result of the artist’s brushstroke, is essential to its conceptual meaning.”
“Tillmans is interested in social life in its broadest sense, encompassing our participation in society. His photographs of individuals and groups are underpinned by his conviction that we are all vulnerable, and that our well-being depends upon knowing that we are not alone in the world.”
Abstraction coming from the “coexistence of chance and control”
“By pinning and taping work to the wall, as well as using frames, Tillmans draws attention to the edges of the print, encouraging the viewer to interact with the photograph as an object, rather than a conduit for an image.”
The above self-portrait, taken using a damaged mirror inside a prison, was the stand-out image for me. It is aesthetically appealing, very painterly but also is a metaphor for the impact of confinement. Prisoners have no control over their bodies or their representation. Brilliant.
The weed image was massive and really draws the viewer in, showing such beautiful, warm fragility. The scale elevates this to being something spectacular.
Beautiful but dizzying images of the sea “energised by opposing forces, but not yet breaking into waves. Differing energies collide, about to erupt into conflict.”
My overriding feeling, looking at this huge body of work, is that Tillmans is really interested in the world and that he loves people. A tonic for the soul.