Tukan 2010 © Wolfgang Tillmans

i-Con: wolfgang tillmans

To celebrate his second Tate retrospective, we asked Wolfgang Tillmans's friends and collaborators – from Alex and Lutz to Frank Ocean – to ask him one question about his life and career.

by i-D Staff
15 February 2017, 3:00pm

Tukan 2010 © Wolfgang Tillmans

Alasdair McLellan, photographer "What is your favorite 12" single?"
I hate to be obvious, but obvious is sometimes good, because the best is sometimes obvious. So for me the best 12" is "Blue Monday" by New Order. Closely followed by True Dub remix of True Faith. "Blue Monday" is the perfect audio visualization of how music is layered. You can feel and hear each track and instrument as it's added. Layering, and the co-existence of layers, is central to my understanding of the world. True Dub is taking that to another level. "Blue Monday" is the craziness of simultaneity in itself, whereas True Dub is for the lovers of deconstruction.

Alexandra Bircken, artist "What do you see as the biggest difference between man and woman?"
As you and I have always been connected by a deep understanding of the importance of sexuality, I may say that the biggest difference is the presence and absence of a penis. I only know what it is like to have a penis. I genuinely and honestly hope that men and women can feel equally empowered to feel sex. Recently I've started to refer to the destructive energy in men as 'penis energy', but I really want to believe it is not that uneven. If we don't understand each other as equals, we're lost from the start.

Collum 2011 © Wolfgang Tillmans

Arca, musician "Your book title For When I Am Weak, I Am Strong suggests softness as a weapon against rigidity. Can you recall when in your life you first picked up this virtue?"
The book you refer to is from 1996, the German title was Who Dares To Love, Lives Tomorrow. The English one was For When I Am Weak, I Am Strong. The English title came to me via Sister Ruth at The Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community in Maine, where I did a residency. She just said it in on a Sunday evening, and I knew it was relevant to me. Giving in and acknowledging our weaknesses is the most powerful thing we can do. I'm not a deep follower of the Christian faith, but the amazing contradiction that Jesus boiled up in turning the other cheek is so powerful. It's the opposite of what his supposed followers on the Christian right claim. 

Frank Ocean, musician "Being both a photographer and a performer on stage, how do you feel about all those camera phones out in the audience?"
In the mid to late 90s I realized that taking photographs is not a passive act, but a potentially aggressive one. It's about being seen taking pictures; the pictures don't matter. It's a symbol of taking control of a social situation. In a performance situation pulling out your smart phone camera is a symbol of not wanting to submit to what is given to you by the performers but an act of appropriation. I own this. Myself I pull out the camera sometimes in these moments because of a sense of duty. I have the duty to record this. I don't want to disturb the purity of the moment, but I feel compelled in order to save this moment for posterity.

Iguazu, 2010 © Wolfgang Tillmans

Terry Jones, founder of i-D "How can we help activate a generation to respond without fear to the unfolding daily news of fear controlling politics?"
I think a majority of people want to connect, not divide. We all have a deep sense of loneliness in this world and a sense of connectedness is what helps us through this. For some reasons not fully understood by myself there are a lot of humans out there who thrive on division. In specific reply to your question: 52% voted against Trump, 48% voted against Brexit. It's only a few percent shift that is needed. Those few percentage points come from Kentucky and Missouri, not New York, so the only way forward is to engage with people in those states. Moderate Republicans are the only way. We need to persuade them that the US is going in the wrong direction under Trump.

Tricia Jones, i-D Original Mum "Which of our current freedoms would the most important for you to protect?"
To be free in my body! I would never want to be in a state where I was not allowed to express my sexuality. Sexuality is the first thing dictators want to control. 

Lucy Kamara, Claire De Rouen Books "Do you think about beauty when making your work?"
Beauty is an almost toxic word. I don't want to shy away from that, because beauty matters. It is what we feel is acceptable in society. Why is it acceptable to show two men kill each other on prime time TV and not acceptable to show two men kiss each other?

Juan Pablo & Karl, Chingaza 2012 © Wolfgang Tillmans

Linder Sterling, artist "What is the relationship between the lens and the larynx?"
I'd say, speaking out is so much more powerful than reflecting visual information. The vocal chords like the lens in themselves do not do so much, only when used with language and within civilization does culture happen.

Ashley Heath, editor of Pop "What's Bournemouth Runner by The Fall all about then? When you studied there did you ever have to do a Bournemouth runner?"
When I had Lutz over for visits we did snatch drinks from the shelf lining the dance floor of the Triangle Club in Bournemouth. We didn't do a runner but we enforced re-orders upon others. We laughed about the absurdity of snatching an unaccompanied drink. We thought it was hilarious.

Max Pearmain, stylist and former editor of Arena Homme+ "If you had the option to turn off the internet, would you take it?"
Oh maybe now, yes! We would touch each other so much more tenderly, carefully. 

astro crusto, a 2012 © Wolfgang Tillmans

Lutz Huelle, designer "After your activism and involvement with the anti-Brexit campaign, can you see yourself going into politics in a bigger way? Would going into politics be a logical conclusion?"
Even though I think a lot more of us should join political parties, I don't think I will want to use my voice only for one party. Parties are the place where politics is actually made. Posting something online or having an opinion about politics changes very little. Sitting through the sessions and meetings of your local branch of a party will allow you to change something for real. Personally I want to spend a lot of my energy for the rest of the year on campaigning against the right-wing xenophobic anti-EU drift that is trying to upend our free societies and move us towards an authoritarian new era. Every young i-D reader should be aware, that myself and much older people find what is happening right now the biggest thing in the western world we have experienced in our lifetime.

Scott King, graphic designer "Do you really want to hurt me?"
Love will tear us apart.

Shit buildings going up left, right and centre 2014 © Wolfgang Tillmans

Maureen Paley, gallerist "If you could travel back in time what event would you have like to have witnessed or place would you like to have visited?"
Neil Young singing "Like a Hurricane" for the first time. It's my all time favorite song.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, director of the Serpentine "Tell me about your unrealized projects."
My musical explorations of the last two years came as a real surprise to me. There is a passion there that I rediscovered, which I want to follow through on more. Another idea I've had for a long time and never got around to doing is a book of collected conversations with doctors. I love talking to them. I sometimes meet them at art openings or dinners. A Japanese collector of mine is a heart surgeon, and he took me into an open-heart operation. A few pictures from it are on the Truth Study Center tables at Tate Modern. When I speak to doctors it's not as a hypochondriac, I'm just super interested in the science of it, how it all works.

paper drop Prinzessinnenstrasse 2014 © Wolfgang Tillmans

Neil Tennant, musician "What is the influence of music on your photography? Has DJing and performing changed your approach to your visual work in any way?"
In a question above I mentioned my love for the layering in music, how it is built layer on layer and then broken down again. The simultaneity of different things happening at the same time is to me a reflection of course of life, where also many things happen at the same time. And visually I see things similarly, that's why I have different subjects, genres and formats sit side by side, not separated. Sometimes I think visually in musical terms, in rhythm and sound. The German word for sound is Klang; "Wie klingt das?" a curator once said, this room swings. When I install exhibitions at night I listen to music at full volume. So music has informed my practice all along, maybe that's why actually making music now seems a natural process.

Matthew Colin, former editor of i-D "How important has activism become to your work and life?"
When you were editor of i-D most stories that we did together had some activist angle. I was so in tune with that, because I always thought activism was cool, and i-D was one of the coolest publications around, it was a perfect mix. Dancing, clubbing, music, and fashion have always been central to i-D, but it was always coming from a DIY angle, it said that style is not about money.

But I want to spend more time on activism. The enemies of the EU are also the enemies of values I hold dear. Marine LePen, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin all want the EU to dissolve. I find the EU is not my enemy, and I will keep speaking out for it, and will translate versions of my posters into all EU languages and let them be used as open source material. I do this not as an art work. I do this a citizen of the EU.

Read: From his iconic photography, to his powerful work for the Remain campaign, explore more about Wolfgang Tillmans.


Images courtesy of the Tate

wolfgang tillmans
Alasdair McLellan