Monday, 27 September 2010


                             SERPENTINE GALLERY LONDON 27.9.10

Eierstapel (208.5 X 138CM) ink jet print ©WOLFGANG TILLMANS


            I can get to the Serpentine Gallery by taking a scenic walk across St James Park, Green Park, then Hyde Park. That’s the good news. The bad news is the confusion when you arrive at a Tillmans show. For a start why are the captions so brief, so haphazard and in German? I’d call myself linguistically challenged, not lazy. And they seem to be attached to the wall by a system which means I can’t even work out what they refer to. 

I fix on Eierstapel. The colouring is beautiful, muted, pale, almost green. It’s a huge close up of open-topped egg trays with frayed edges teetering precariously in a huge stack. They make me nervous as I stand there, fragile and tactile. In my time I must have broken thousands of eggs: scrambled them, baked, boiled, whisked them, made my hands concentrate on the delicate minuet of keeping yolk and white apart. One tremor and you’re done. It’s a high risk photo. It makes me think of battery hens cramped and just surviving in caged rows.

But why is there so little information, no mention that he was the first artist  working in photography to win the Turner prize?  I remember 2000 well because it was a disappointment. I was rooting for someone else on the short list, Michael Raedecker, an artist who made a breakthrough of a different kind. As well as paint he used thread, embroidery and textiles to create his haunting shadowy landscapes and interiors. He crossed the boundary between art and craft. Perhaps he was contaminated by daring to consort with what is seen as ‘women’s work’?
I also remember the other excitement in 2000 was the way Tillman pinned or nailed his art, some unframed, to various parts of the gallery walls. I’m probably not the only viewer who went out and bought coloured bull-dog clips and Sellotape to ‘re-hang’ images precious to me. One permanent result is a hall lined with a jigsaw of about 50 family photographs in a motley collection of frames. It’s called ‘The Quick and the Dead’: mostly action pictures of 6 generations.

 I keep going back to Tillmans' work. I have a postcard of his ‘Space between Two Buildings’ on my desk. It’s what happens between a couple of two-storey wooden houses painted white, standing there with their backs to me, no doors, just a small mean window on the upper floor of each. There’s grass between them but no fence dividing the space. Instead a white fence runs across the houses. Where it’s low I could climb over it. Beyond the fence is a rough track made of warm earth. Beyond that is woodland which, if you squint your eyes, coalesces into a giant hedge. Only the sky manages to get away. It spreads itself everywhere. It’s alive.
There’s no one there. No children kicking a rainbow ball around, no teenagers having a quiet smoke over the fence, no woman hanging out the washing.  Nothing.  It’s the space between the notes of music when you wait for what you know will come next. Or think you know. Sometimes when I hit on a difficult idea I look at the scene and hope a new coil of thought is ready to unwind.     

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