Artist Wolfgang Tillmans discusses never-before-seen video works from 1987 to 2015

Author | Sarah Wang

Images Courtesy David Zwirner, New York


Often designated as the “documentarian of his generation,” German-born Wolfgang Tillmans gained recognition for his fascination with the 80’s British youth culture and the local fashion magazines of the time. He began by photographing the social movement that came out of the London club and gay scenes, but soon expanded into other genres such as astrophotography, landscape, still lifes, and video. His work is incredibly cohesive with the exploration of reality and truth, particularly in relation to queerness and gender identity. Tillmans was the first photographer – and also the first non-English person – to be awarded the Tate annual Turner Prize. He has also been awarded the Hasselblad Award and is a member of the Royal Academy of Arts.

On September 14th at The Kitchen in NYC, Wolfgang Tillmans screened and discussed video works from 1987 to 2015, many of which have never been seen before. The presentation “Sound on Camera” was a 72 minute program of strung together individual pieces.

Wolfgang Tillmans, 14th Street, 1995 /1996, Video Hi8, ambient sound. New York City
Wolfgang Tillmans, 14th Street, 1995 /1996, Video Hi8, ambient sound. New York City

In his video work Wolfgang uses the camera as a tool to create a subjective experience, open to the viewer’s interpretation. Tillmans had a deep interest in video starting as early as 1980 when he used a portable NHS recorder to record his surroundings and he subsequently kept up with the rapidly changing technology in camera equipment, eventually upgrading to a Hi mini cam and so on. Most takes from his video series are a still camera filming a moving object, as he believes that video is equivalent to the photographing of time. But because of the boring repetitive nature of the videos, he was hesitant to use film as a primary medium.

Called “Sound on Camera,” the videos highlight Tillman’s love of music which is a recurring theme in his life as well as video practice. One video for example shows only dust and human skin illuminated by strobe lights inside a night club with a montage of techno sounds. In other videos music is often dubbed over various scenes but fades so that sounds from the real world are revealed. This technique of the “reveal” represents how the surface can be easily read but it is always clear that there is a lot hidden beneath. The videos allow viewers to read below the surface as it plays with perceived truths, though surface & content are always connected.

Wolfgang Tillmans. Heartbeat / Armpit, 2003 DVCAM, 1’45”, no sound, London
Wolfgang Tillmans. Heartbeat / Armpit, 2003
DVCAM, 1’45”, no sound, London

Wolfgang Tillmans lived on 14th street in New York between 1994 and 1995 and used the camera to document the surrounding area, a miniature microcosm of a world playing out in front of him. One scene shows a card player (three card Monte) luring people in with the prospect of winning big, a very literal representation of how people fuck each other over. Music from the Tao monastery plays in Tillman’s room as he records, resembling a glorious music video. This video like many of the others plays with the tragedy of the situation unfolding – one of trust and mistrust, truth and lies.

Many of the videos show simple, mundane passages of time such as garbage being dumped while Tillman’s roommate asks how his day was in the background, or a close up shot of the top of a glass of coca cola with bubbles from the carbonation coming to the surface of the drink forming a small island of bubbles then popping before the next island of bubbles formed. One video, “The Workings Underneath” shows a man’s armpit moving in motion with the rhythm of his heartbeat. The simplicity of this motion was extremely beautiful and uncanny because Tillmans was also madly in love with the person. His appreciation and fascination for the simple beauty in things shows in his series of videos and photography alike.

The Kitchen presentation coincided with the artist’s exhibition PCR at David Zwirner Gallery, on view September 16 – October 24 at 519 West 19th Street.






For additional information please visit


Posture Magazine
Posture Magazine

Posture is a queer-run art and fashion magazine that brings queer, women, and POC creators to the front.