Wolfgang Tillmans

  • Photography  Wolfgang Tillmans
  • Words  Abi Buller

The first entry point of the exhibition presents ideas around static interference: a theme applicable both literally and figuratively throughout the entire space. Wolfgang Tillmans offers an extensive insight into his life works, as well as a perspective on the world which encourages questioning of our own outlook on life. With themes around disruption, conspiracy, and self-expression, Tillmans’ installation rooms display content ranging from his formative years to his political world views, with a collection of controversial material from affairs including Trump’s election and Brexit campaigns.

The artist touches on a “recent re-emergence of activism”, as he presents us with theories on the information we consume, and its psychological and physiological effects. Within this theme of hidden and mixed messages, Tillmans also provides an intimate look into his relationship with his work. Through a documentation of the physical processes of creating images, we are presented with abstract pieces of bodily attributes including textures of hair, which when viewed in a different way could actually be a manipulation of printing processes including the running of ink and crumpling of paper.

Wald (for transparency), 2015
Tag Nacht, 2009
Silver 115, 2013
Silver 82, 2011


Lighter Silver Green Yellow, 2009
Everlast II, 2009
Collum, 2011
The journey through Tillman’s life and work is both personal and perceptive, from the description of the artist’s teenage alter-ego as “fragile”, to his most recent activist approaches. Its curation feels raw and vulnerable, further emphasised through the use of unpolished mounting of photograph (Tillmans often uses sellotape and crocodile clips in replacement of conventional framing). There is also experimentation with structure and form, with enlarged images positioned alongside postcard sized photographs, and swathes of white wall space making space for corners of clustered montages.

A deep consideration of human bodily experiences, as well as ideas around private and public themes, leads to the introduction of the exhibit ‘Playback Room’: an immersive sound installation space which acts as a bridge between the experience of listening to music digitally, and the live experience of being at a concert. The space is simple and effective, with studio recordings played at optimum quality to allow a connection to the music’s creation. Much like his photographic work, this is another example of Tillman’s playfulness with physical and digital. With no photography present in this room, an interesting dimension is added to Tillman’s curation intentions – a lack of visual stimuli allows visitors to reconnect with another sensory experience.

Silver 127, 2013
Tukan, 2010
Lighter, green III, 2009
Lighter, blue concave, 2013
Some themes are heavy and intimate, including performative processes in moving image form and photographs with sexually prominent ideals. Other themes are less pervasive, particularly in his multi-media works, where Tillmans plays with the layering of images to create new narratives. Tillmans’ approach to life here feels authentic and real as a natural curiosity permeates his everyday. One example is his ‘Fruit Logistica’ series, displayed in book form in the archival room, as well as part of a conceptual spaces thematic room, his images taken at a fruit convention show a documentation of the overwhelming display of textures and colours present in this event.

The unconventional mounting of images, including the use of sellotape as a wall fixture, creates a raw and open effect to the exhibition. This achieves a vulnerability to the artist’s representation of his work and himself. With the space journeyed to evoke thought into such a variety of topics, the effect acts as a capturing of tangible and temporal moments in life’s rich tapestry. This is achieved through the inclusion of a documentation of the working progress, alongside personal reflections on life, and the harshest realities of current affairs. The topics explored resonate with the twists and turns of society as a whole, as well as with our lives as individuals – something which is also reflected through the unusual combination of materials. With fragile, unframed works positioned alongside enlarged structured images, this acts as a symbolic reminder of the highs and lows we face in life. As a curation method, this feels modern and justified as it presents us with material for questioning what we assume to be true. Ultimately, the takeaway is that you leave with an open mind; with such an intense look into the life and mind of an artist, it is only natural to reflect on our own personal perceptions of life.

Images courtesy of Tate

See more at tillmans.co.uk