Conceived especially for the Serpentine Gallery, the exhibition explored Tillmans’ acute sensitivity to the contemporary world around him, his ongoing fascination with colour and his conceptual engagement with the technical processes of photography.
Over the past 20 years, Tillmans has redefined photography and the way it is presented. Known in the early 1990s for his seemingly casual images of the world he inhabited, his work reassessed photographic conventions and reflected the culture and identity politics of the time, capturing the fragility of human life and focusing on everyday objects. His work has always engaged with portraiture, landscape and still life, but more recently Tillmans has turned to a deeper exploration of abstraction, and has pushed the boundaries and definitions of the photographic form.
The wide-ranging themes in Tillmans’ photographs are reconfigured with each site-specific installation. In this exhibition, explorations into abstraction sat alongside a renewed focus on the figurative – a focus that is increasingly informed by recent colour-saturated works and experiments with process. Referring to his approach to installation, Tillmans commented that in creating these “constellations of pictures, I try to approximate the way I see the world, not in a linear order but as a multitude of parallel experiences. Multiple singularities, simultaneously accessible as they share the same space or room”.
Tillmans continually challenges photographic practice by playing with exhibition methods, often pinning or taping his work to gallery walls, building study tables that resemble museological vitrines, or creating wall-based cases for selected works. Each exhibition is a renegotiation and rearrangement of material, ideas and subjects. For each installation, he investigates the process of exhibition and image-making, intuitively reflecting the politics of our shared contemporary society. Tillmans’ images capture the essence of a moment, and the pictures and installations that the artist has created over the last two decades are an alchemical blend of detachment and engagement.
The Serpentine Gallery exhibition reflected how Tillmans’ delicate yet challenging images capture the distinctive energetic balance between beauty and subversion that the artist has long embraced.