Monday, 29 July 2013

Wolfgang Tillmans @Les Rencontres d'Arles, 2013

All images © Wolfgang Tillmans

Following the yearly sojourn to Arles, 1000 Words Associate editor Brad Feuerhelm reports back from the 44th edition of the pioneering photography festival with his thoughts on the headline show: Neue Welt by Wolfgang Tillmans.

You could potentially misinterpret Wolfgang Tillmans’ Neue Welt exhibition at Les Rencontres d’Arles 2013 edition as a dispassionate foray into servile production values and commercialised aesthetics. With its general over-scaling, ready to impress a commodity driven art market, you could also be easily forgiven.

But that would be to overlook the qualities of this diaristic voyager of unnoticed contemporary sublimities - of photography, technology, and also of hyper-consumption.Tillmans work bristles with what Warhol Factory guru Gerard Malanga’s associated as explicit Scopophilia; the love of looking.

Clearly, the phenomenon of enforced sexuality and of the eroticised mundane is very much on display here in an exhibition that emits distinct flourishes of chromophilia. Sometimes, this is enmeshed in banal observations of car headlights, which Tillman’s enthusiastically photographs over and over. In other instances, one can replace the anxiety over the noirish branding (which exists in frame without any real reference to the make of car) to that of over-analytical paradoxes and modes of intellectual over-compensation. Thus, it becomes a tragic display of inept consumerism with a sexy commerciality, which culminates in an unnerving dead end to our insistence of rapidity and the sense of false desire photography so powerfully enables. The headlights themselves are also a crude metaphor for branded technological verisimilitude. Between the lens and the convex forms inherent in headlight design, we find a reflexive nod to the history of automobile and camera lens alike.

It is also worthy mentioning the fact that Tillmans’ exhibition is of epic size. This, combined with the grandiose scale of the prints, pitch congress with the eye near to the point of exhaustion, but somehow always manage to reel us back in. On this note, it should be observed that most of the exhibition is hung in a tighter line than is usually associated with Tillmans’ notoriously chaotic methods of display. The pleasure of the line is occasionally interrupted delicately throughout by varying print size, the first of which being the image of the fly resting on a lobster. With its mountains of pink, fleshy debris playing host to a breeding ground for further desires and maggots concurrently, it’s difficult not to read it as a nod to a hyper consuming society and the beautiful decay it produces.

The overall feeling is that of a nagging reminder of our communally myopic insight into the sublimity of our excessive existence. Neue Welt delivers a penchant for newly discovered dystopias and the revelations associated with decimated human endeavour, the white walls berating a tunnel vision of purity and respect for works which ultimately comment on the disease that our contemporary first world lifestyles need for product enforcement and so on. This is tantamount to the power of Tillmans, and his innate ability to observe, absorb and finally to reevaluate and redirect inward in an age of rampant consumption and derogatory practice of an ecological and metaphoric scale.

Typically, Tillman’s offers no answers, cares little for your reception, and is quite content to be self-involved with his internal vision and desires of display. That it is oblique or self-referential is immaterial when the work pays homage to the patterns of subjective understanding and human perception. A potential misunderstanding suggests a greater measure of the problems we are facing. We expect too much and reflect too little.
Brad Feuerhelm