The Desire To See Something

“The main thing is to understand desire. The desire to possess, the desire to own or to control, the desire to interpret: they all make for bad art. I have observed this again and again in my life. When I desire to interpret or to own something, the picture is boring or bad. Only when I look without this possessive desire is there an understanding or a connection between myself and the subject. The camera is something that I put between myself and the subject; it is not a tool for possession or acquisition, but a recorder of what my mind sees.
Desire for beauty or for a person or for longing can, in itself, be a beautiful thing. The moment your art makes a claim to control, or claims sovereignty of interpretation, then it’s just ugly. But if you are genuinely interested in something, it is difficult to go wrong. Your art is only as interesting as your thoughts about the world. If you have a boring mind, if you’re not interested in the world, then you can’t see anything interesting in it. Your pictures would only talk about the desire to see something, without actually seeing it. I find science and news photography inspiring because the takers are really interested in what they’re looking at. They’re not interested in being seen to look at something, but they are interested in looking at something. That’s the danger of our time: that people are only interested in being seen as being interested. People taking pictures because they want to be seen taking pictures.” [Wolfgang Tillmans in conversation with Aimee Lin]

“In continental Europe there was this emerging scene of artists questioning the art object and the whole practice of exhibiting, and I think that’s why I was so well received there. They’d gone through the object-driven 1980s, and young artists were really not interested in that anymore; they were questioning why or how we exhibit at all and how objects can still be meaningful. My taking magazines seriously as a platform for my work as an artist came from that sense of urgency. The British scene hadn’t really had that wipe-out after the 1980s and was, with people like Damien Hirst, celebrating the object and production values. So there were different agendas in Britain and the rest of the art world. I remember in the summer of 1993 gallerists Gregorio Magnani and Daniel Buchholz invited a dozen artists and friends to a house in Tuscany with this idea that we would all spend time together to sit down and think about how things could progress, what art could look like in the future. It really was completely open, up for grabs. Nobody was selling anything, and there was a similar situation in New York and in Paris, where there were three independently published small art magazines, three circles of people at the magazines Documents, Bloc Notes, and Purple Prose, all asking the same question: how can meaningful art be made now? They all emerged in Paris at almost exactly the same time.” [Wolfgang Tillmans in conversation with Peter Halley]

Wolfgang Tillmans Mental Pictures #65 2001

“I want the pictures to be working in both directions. I accept that they speak about me, and yet at the same time, I want and expect them to function in terms of the viewer and their experience. With these abstract pictures, although the eye recognizes them as photographic rather than painted, the eye also tries to connect them to reality. There’s always this association machine working in the brain, and that is why it is important to me that they are actually photographic and not painted.
…There is this looking at the world as shapes and patterns and colors that have meaning, and you can’t deny the superficial because the superficial is what meets the eye. The content can never be disconnected from the surface, and this active interest in surface can never be disregarded from the good art that we admire.
… I was enlarging photocopies or photographs in three stages. But in my actual practice, I never zoom. I always have a single focallength lens, which forces me to change position. I see my practice as picturemaking. Whatever is available, I use. In the beginning, it was the photocopier. Then the camera seemed to be the best way to make pictures that talk about what is needed.” [Wolfgang Tillmans in conversation with Bob Nickas]

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