Sunday, 7 May 2017

Wolfgang Tillmans

Tracing light directly onto paper

The dismantled photocopierr

The folded sheet of paper

Wolfgang Tillmans (born 1968) is a fascinating artist. Known originally for his avant-garde work in fashion and other magazines, he is also now more engaged in wider social issues. 

In his practice he is very engaged with process and materials -  in his case this means photographic media such as film, chemicals and paper, and often his images reflect this interest.  He creates abstract images on photosensitive paper without using the camera, tracing light directly onto the paper.  He sees his tools as artworks.  For example, he dismantled a broken colour photocopies by undoing every screw is it and photographed it as a piece of sculpture. A folded sheet of paper also makes an ambiguous abstract shape.

He is interested in the "coexistence of chance and control - finding ways of resisting the idea that the photograph is a representation of reality"  He does not distinguish between abstraction and representation, is rather more interested in what they have in common.

Printed material of all kinds central to his work, “the printed page is as valid a venue for artistic creation as the walls of a museum” , he says.

Although Tillmans' approach is highly conceptual, he is also very socially aware of how space is shaped and experienced by society, and also how new technology is affecting our worldview and culture.  At the same time, he notices how urban nightlife (places where people might express their personal identities) is becoming more restricted.

His empathy for people is apparent from his photographs in the Neue Welt project (started in 2009).  He travelled to five continents to look at new places and familiar places, both as if for the first time.  Some of photographs from this period form a separate video work "Book for Architects 2014".  This consists of 450 photos taken in 37 countries, emphasizing both the adaptability and fragility of human beings.  

There is so much more to see and learn in this exhibition at Tate Modern (15 February to 11th June, 2017)

I particularly like the way his acknowledgement of shared humanity and vulnerabilty is combined with an enquiring technical and creative mind that takes nothing for granted and sees the world and his art in such a new way.

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