Saturday, 28 June 2008


Richard Prince, Untitled (cowboy), 1989. Ektacolour photograph 127 x 178cm. Copyright Richard Prince 2008.

Richard Prince: Continuation, Serpentine Gallery, 26 June-7 September 2008.

Pulp novels and B films, bike culture, the open road, the Marlborough cowboy, the fast talking Jewish comedian. They're all in there together, in the small, linked spaces of the Serpentine Gallery. What did I expect from this new Richard Prince show? I thought it might be fast and sharp, trickster like with its arrays of appropriated images. I wondered if it would seem affirmative of the culture it figured, or whether its manipulation would emphasise a hollowness. Maybe both. I was sure it would be very American. Or, rather, it would be about the culture through which we can all be American, even Americans.

Actually, the show's dominant mood is one of quiet intensity. It is a peaceful, contented show. Maybe this is because there is a certain retrospective feel - not just in terms of being a mini-retrospective of the artist's career, but also because the images themselves, the sense of culture and the method of approach they embody, all seem to have formed their sense of themselves around 1982. When a series of images mimic the style of William De Kooning's Woman, by mixing his abstract expressionist brush work with torn pieces of pornographic photographs, it's as much about a certain dialogue and challenge between generations of New York artists as it is a critique or dialogue with De Kooning's - and the media's - representation of women.

This isn't a show about globalisation, or the image glut of the internet. This isn't the new cities of China, or even the modern day post-9/11 New York. This is a show that has a different focus, showing an earlier age of media imagery in its aftermath, the point where it has settled, sunk into a psyche, forming a sediment where it has certain habitual quality. It's just the way things are, in the same way as the jokes in Richard Prince's joke paintings - they're the way jokes used to be, when a joke was a joke that began " A man walks into a pub...."

This exhibition even seems - and I'm not sure what this means - rural. Maybe I'm swayed by the gallery text which talks of Prince at home in upstate New York, arranging his art works in his collection of houses. Actually, I'm mainly swayed by his Upstate series itself, which indulges a fantasy of rurality and ease and community and landscape, even as it highlights its economic and spiritual redundancy - a basketball hoop in a grown over field, tired marks on a deserted country road speaking of a kind of hopelessness. Prince as Walker Evans? Thankfully the Marlborough Cowboy is always just a short gallop away. You can probably see him, right now, on the horizon...

If the notion of his ouevre as rural is puzzling, what does it mean to think of Prince's output as principally domestic? Maybe collage art has a homely side if one thinks of Cornell, or the importance of "household" in the work of Jess and his poet partner Robert Duncan, or even Richard Hamilton's Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing (1956). Somehow, though, when that becomes appropriation in artists like Prince, it seems far more about the home being replaced by a public, mediatized culture. But that was then. Now we're invited to see Prince almost as a kind of part-time, upper New York state car mechanic, tinkering rather than art making, albeit one who is a millionaire and hires a private jet to fly his hobby over to Hyde Park.

I liked this show. I liked the way its mood seemed against what its materials made it seem that it should be. It meant that the artist was elusive, rumours and lies. And there was shock too when I said to myself "This isn't retrospective. This is contemporary." Then I saw the consequence of what this show chronicled: pop become psyche. There were looping bad jokes as political structures, bare breasted biker girls reading the news, and men forever stuck in the mindset of a fifteen year old, but getting ever fatter. All of them were trying to make sense of a world they never expected, brought to them through images they didn't recognise from their dreams.


Dir. Jennifer Baichwall. Canada (2006) 90 mins. Cert.U.

I was sad to the miss the Q&A with Edward Burtynsky that accompanied the May screening of Manufactured Landscapes at the BFI Southbank. Actually, after seeing the film I was less sad because one of the film's structural devices is to keep returning to a Burtynsky lecture, as if the whole film is an advanced power point presentation: showing his still photographs and then animating them, before going behind the scenes to show Burtynsky and his assistant at work.

That simplifies the film a bit, but not much. The other structure comes from that of Burtynsky's career - his spectacular images of polluted landscapes preceding a series of visits to China. There's a strong thread between these two bodies of work, although China is not presented as the origin of this pollution, rather as the place where it ends up - Burtynsky shows whole towns dedicated to separating the heavy metals out of old computors, for example. China is also what Burtynsky's work demands: the place of greatest drama in which the processes of production, the processing of raw materials, is enacted on the largest possible scale.

Actually, now I've written this, I'm wondering if i didn't learn something from this film after all. Something, say, about China and e-waste. Maybe I should ditch the churlish comments I've planned about eco-porn; about the films total uncritical absorption into Burntsky's way of seeing; about the whole unproblematised image of the artist as a kind of neo-coloniser, with his huge camera, his intrusive presence, his assistants, and his demeaning way of placating the natives wth sweets, drugs, money and polaroids of themselves (I wasn't sure what was going on, but Burtynsky's assistant was handing out something) .

Maybe I could quote Burtynsky's lecture here in his self-defence, but the only thing I can remember him saying is that he doesn't have text in his exhibitions, or frame them as specifically political exhibitions, because he wants to leave the interpretation open. It's a familiar argument and I'm wondering exactly what sort of interpretations are possible. Actually, I think Burtynsky makes it remarkably simple. Without context, this is aesthetic, glossy "ooh" and "aah" art, as if Andy Goldsworthy had given up using his spit to stick icicles together and was set on making another of those big, glossy books by trashing the planet, or by changing from leaves to Chinese factory workers (see the first picture above).

Perhaps my disquiet can be expressed through Burtynsky's statement Exploring the Residual Landscape:

Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone, to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible I search for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis.

These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire - a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.

I certainly felt like I was suffering for his success. It's with the movement, evident in this statement, towards the mythical, that I think my disquiet begins. At a very early point in the film, each image just made me worry more and more about beauty. I like beauty, so I'm puzzled why it so irritates me here. One clue is in the images of tanker ships being dismantled in Bangladesh. This reminds me of a simialr scene as it appears in Peter Hutton's film At Sea. Hutton's films, too, are beautiful, but not at all troubling, and I'm wondering what the difference is. It's not time: both Hutton's film and Burtynskys photographs have slow, contemplative rhythms.

P.Adams Sitney has a thoughtful, perceptive article on Hutton in the May 2008 Artforum, tying in with a retrospective at MOMA. Sitney writes:

For nearly four decades Peter Hutton has been taking the meaure of the cinematic image to delimit its powers of fascination and absorption. Over those years he transformed a diaristic mode of the filmic lyric into one in which subtle fluctuations in the visible field - of light, or figures and objects in motion, or slight camera movements - configure the ecstatic concentration of the filmmaker's attention. He marshalls silence and the immanent rhythms of nearly still scenes, or slow vehicular movements, to evoke the pleasures of isolation, even of loneliness. If that sounds paradoxical, it is consistent with the oxymoron or catachresis in the title he gave his third film: Images of Asian Music (A Diary from Life 1973-74). Within individual shots music, or vibratory energy, becomes soundlessly pictorial: A centripetal force repeatedly concentrates the intensity of scrutiny in prolonged, suspended moments that nearly efface the subjectivity of the observer opnly to have it resurface in the paratactic assembly of apparently isolated shots. The persona of the filmmaker looming within Hutton's work seems to go looking for loneliness, all over the world, in fact, as iof convinced that beauty reveals itself most poignantly within the modalities of attention. This would put him at the opposite pole of Jonas Mekas, the great film diarist who can never shake off the painful fissions of isolation despite the hectic whirl of social and familial life he records. In opposition to Hutton, he continually goes questing with his camera for what he calls "the ecstasy of old and new friends." (361-62)

Thinking about how this differs from Burtynsky: it's a more allusive quality: something about whether the image tries to condense everything about its subject within its frame, or whether its composition is forever opening out, assuming however implicitly an off-screen space that is the complexity, wonder, stupidity and barbarity of the world alike. Buyrtynsky's images are forever reaching for the iconographic which is also closure, and that was how his working method seemed too. Hutton's largely silent, peopleless At Sea ends with an eruption of people on the beaches where the tanker ships are dismantled, and where his own camera is surrounded, joked with, absorbed into the remarkable scene, as if the films formal clarity was a fleeting, tentative affirmation or proposition. Hutton's interest in something may have an aesthetic basis, but his method is mobile and patient enough to allow the scene its own growth and development.

Sadly, At Sea - which I saw at last year's London Film Festival - is unlikely to get a cinema release to enable this hunch to be checked further. I was walking home, wondering if I had any books with articles or interviews with Hutton, when someone gave me a copy of The London Paper, the free newspaper given out on the street here. Opening it I read:

Supermodel Petra Nemcova seemed determined to cause a stir at the weekend. Not content to simply dazzle in a fabulous outfit, the Czech beuaty turned heads at her Creative Coalition fundraiser by cosying up with ex Sean Penn and wearing a Montblanc diamond ring on her finger.

I wondered if my argument with Burtynsky was about reverence, and that what I objected to was his double move: landscape as celebrity on the one hand, image as classroom on the other. It wasn't particularly about his images, which get a curious frision from turning devastated landscapes into luxury commodity, but I did have a sudden desire to shout out: "Images don't need text to be closed and determining, pompous and self-important. They can do it all on their own!"

Tuesday, 24 June 2008


Mel Bochner, Measurement Room, 1969. Tape and Letraset, dimensions variable. Copyright Mel Bochner 2008.

One theme inparticular from last month's Tarkovsky conference at Tate Modern has continued to trouble, prompt and perplex, notably the much discussed notion of the long take and the way a viewer responds to it. To combine several of the day's speakers into one: the image is a field, with eye and mind liberated by the duration of the long take to drift productively around the image. I didn't necessarily disagree with this as a concept, but it didn't particularly correspond to my behaviour when I was watching a film, or anything else that moved slow enough to supposedly liberate my perception from the act of keeping up with it.

As often happens, several quotes leaped out from books I was reading this week, which whilst not offering any conclusions, did provide some ideas for a more satisfying notion of reading the long take. First Chantal Mouffe, from an essay I came to through an interview with K8 Hardy in the May/ June issue of Art Papers:

What are the consequences of the agonistic model of democratic politics that I have just delineated for visualizing the public space? The most important consequence is that it challenges the widespread conception that, albeit in different ways, informs most visions of the public space conceived as the terrain where consensus can emerge.

For the agonistic model, on the contrary, the public space is the battleground where different hegemonic projects are confronted, without any possibility of final reconciliation. I have spoken so far of the public space, but I need to specify straight away that, we are not dealing here with one single space. According to the agonistic approach, public spaces are always plural and the agonistic confrontation takes place in a multiplicity of discursive surfaces.

I also want to insist on a second important point. While there is no underlying principle of unity, no predetermined centre to this diversity of spaces, there always exist diverse forms of articulation among them and we are not faced with the kind of dispersion envisaged by some postmodernist thinkers.

Nor are we dealing with the kind of 'smooth’ space found in Deleuze and his followers. Public spaces are always striated and hegemonically structured. A given hegemony results from a specific articulation of a diversity of spaces and this means that the hegemonic struggle also consist in the attempt to create a different form of articulation among public spaces.

As I was reading Mouffe's essay I imagined it as a description of the long take, where the slow perusal of the image became a movement in the direction of public space. I don't know if the speakers at the Tate saw all the different elements of the long take image as engaged in consensus, but it certainly sharpens the concept for me to understand them as engaged in agonistic relations with each other, charging a viewer-image relationship that otherwise can seem passive.

In contrast, some ideas of Mel Bochner's - taken from Solar System and Rest Rooms: Writings and Interviews 1965-2007, the latest excellent title in MIT's WritingArt series - sought to understand issues of perception and understanding, relations of eye and mind to frame and image, at a level before any verbiage and prior to conceptualisation. In an interview with Elayne Varian, Bochner discussed his Measurement series, in which sheets of paper were pinned to gallery walls and the measurements of the paper written around them:

MB: The way things are contained physically and mentally is an important issue to me. For example, the measurements that are marked on wall around the sheet of paper read 36" or 48". However, to measure the entire work you must include the 2" width of the numbers, which makes the actual measurement of the piece 38" x 50". In other words, in order to contain the boundaries you must inevitably enlarge them, ad infinitum. I think that the real subject of these pieces is boundaries - the perceptual boundaries of thought. How much of something do we include within our field, how are the boundaries determined, how much of it is visible, how much of it is filled in by the viewer, how much of it doesn't need to be filled in - how much of it can exist without any physicality? (57-8)

And, later in the same interview, discussing Measurement: Room (1969):

EV: I think of the Measurements as "volumes," but I can't think of them as sculpture.

MB: I like that, because the Measurement: Room, where I mark the measurements of a room directly on the walls, like a three-dimensional blueprint, encompasses a concept of volume, without becoming a sculpture. Rather than thinking about my work categorically as painting or sculpture, I think of them more like "gerunds," verbs that act like nouns. So that the work is an active thing, both the doing and the thing done. It could be a simple question of orientation, like placing something in a specific position, for example, in relation to the compass. I feel that the basic question in my work - back to containment again - is how do you experience yourself in the world, which is to say, how do you inhabit an idea of the world? (58)

Rather than a vague faith in the perceptual inclination of an imaginary viewer, here the viewers response to the long take becomes a precise relationship, attaining an ontological specificity in order to open up a more genuine sense of possibility. As with the Mouffe quotation, I'm making these connections to Tarkovsky intuitively and speculatively, noting how, by juxtaposing them, the long take emerges, not as automatically equated to some spiritual value or ethical or aesthetic good, but as a space of charged, uncertain, measurement and debate.



CY: Hi David.

DAVID: I haven't seen your show yet. It's at Tate Modern 19th June-14th September 2008.

CY: You should go.

DAVID: I keep meaning to, Cy. I'm a great lover of your kind of thing.

CY: What is that - my kind of thing?

DAVID: Oh you know.... doodles.

CY: You're very kind.

DAVID: Too kind, Cy. I lack critical distance. Take this conversation.

CY: I am fond of... doodles.

DAVID: But the reason I haven't been to the show yet is this. I'm struggling to combine your fifty year long exploration of the art of the doodle with the knowledge that they sell for millions of dollars. It doesn't seem right. Doodling should be free like air or water.

CY: People have made millions from selling water.

DAVID: That isn't the point I wanted to make.

CY: Personally, I haven't found mega-wealth a problem, if that makes it any easier for you.

DAVID: It doesn't. So rather than go straight away to Tate Modern, I've gone back to an early period of your doodling career at Black Mountain College.

CY: That was a long time ago.

DAVID: To... I don't know... find some space of freedom in your work-

CY: I can't even remember what I was doing then...

DAVID: You were doodling free of all the accumulations of age, criticism, art history, and commercialism that today your work engages in a Titanic struggle with and, frankly, loses -

CY: I have been feeling very tired lately. Maybe you're right.

DAVID: Of course I'm right. There was a conference here in London recently-

CY: About me. I read about it.

DAVID: About you, Cy. Did you go?

CY: I... I was in the middle of the Caspian sea.

DAVID: How convenient. Well I thought of going. Georgio Agamben was speaking. I'd like to hear him. But then I thought: No. I don't respond to your work on that level. I was sickened by the thought of all those intellectuals feeding off your work, just as I'm sickened by how much money your paintings cost.

CY: I'm sorry. Couldn't you just try and enjoy how big they are? Some of my recent work is really enormous.

DAVID: I want to respond differently. That's why I was thinking about Black Mountain College because when you read about it that always seems a pretty down to earth, uninhibited place. Everyone looking at each others paintings, talking openly and honestly, then sleeping with each other -

CY: You're not going to kiss my paintings are you?


CY: Promise?

DAVID: I promise.

CY: Good. Lawyers are expensive.

[At this point our conversation is interrupted. Cy is receiving a call on his mobile phone. I can hear very little, but I am surprised to hear that he appears to be talking to Rindy Sam, the French artist who was taken to court for kissing a Twombly painting in the Collection Lambert museum in Avignon, France on 18th July 2007. Sam told La Provence newspaper: " I left a kiss... A red stain remained on the canvas... This red stain is testimony to this moment, to the power of art." I was pleased that Sam and Twombly were still in touch, as I feared for their fledgling friendship after Sam's court appearance for damaging the painting, which is valued at $2m. Their conversation was private and I shall not relate it here, other than Sam's comment that Twombly had "left this [space of] white for her", which she has made before and is a contention already in the public domain]

CY: David? Are you still there?

DAVID: Yes, Cy.

CY: Sorry about that.

DAVID: It's okay.

CY: I like you. You're like me you know. Kind of intuitive, kind of intellectual. A very visual person but always writing in some strange way.

DAVID: Yes we are similar Cy. Doodlers together in the language-art interzone.

CY: But there's a difference, and as we talk I've been not listening to your words but watching your face, your mouth, your ever gesticulating hands, to try and work out what it is. I'm always reclaiming freedom. In each painting. I'm not weighed down. I moved to Europe all those years ago because its historical weight and resonance gave me room to doodle, drip and scrawl, as if I was literally in the midst of all these classical Greek statues of gods and they were all coming back to life and I was feeling- oh. I'm sorry. My private plane is ready. I have to go.

DAVID: Thankyou Cy.

CY: Thankyou David. Perhaps next time we can talk about my sculpture.

DAVID: Good luck with the show, Cy.

CY: It's going to be a good one. I can feel it. Would you like a complementary catalogue? My assistant could send you one.

DAVID: That would be lovely.


Oscar Munoz (From top:) Line of Destiny (2006), single screen projection 1:56 mins. Project for a Memorial (2005), five screen projection 7:40 mins. Courtesy the artist.

Mirror Image, INIVA, 13th June-27th July 2008.

A piece in the recent show at the Photographer’s Gallery was my introduction to the work of Oscar Munoz. Over twenty eight minutes the video Re/trato documented Munoz painting a self portrait in water on a hot pavement In Cali, Columbia. As one part of the face was worked on, so another vanished through evaporation. The piece was a powerful dialogue about presence and non-presence, between mark making and recognition. Furthermore, confronted by the image without any explanation, what was happening was both more mysterious and more inevitable. Abstracted by the video from its context the screen shows a hand holding a brush, a grey ground, a bowl of water, and a portrait that magically appears and fades.

The piece takes a different form in Mirror Image, Munoz’s first solo UK show. This time it involves five screens, a shift away from self-portraiture into a range of male and female faces, the act of painting confined to one screen as images evaporate on another. Having seen the single screen work, this seemed less concentrated. The rhythm between the screens was also awkward and stilted – the image freezing on a screen worked towards a full portrait, the hand commencing work on a screen where previous marks had evaporated away completely. The piece was now entitled Proyecto para un memorial (Project for a Memorial) (2005), and suggested memorial as an ongoing commitement to a process of appearance and disappearance in a very literal sense.

Other works in the show compensated for this necessary lack of focussed intensity. Munoz has blocked out the windows of INIVA, making seven small holes, each the lens for a camera obscura. Upside down images of Rivington Place were projected onto circular concave mirrors attached to the gallery wall. Mirrors are arranged at varying angles so that, creating patterns of dark and light, the seven appear like the stages of a lunar eclipse. As it evokes this cosmic scale, so, too, the work, makes physical demands on the viewer who must move close in to and peer around the screens to make out any detail from the projected images. The scale and positioning of this work means that a normal, gallery viewing distance is not acceptable. Similarly, the pieces disrupt normal relations out on the street where the normal window display is replaced by boards and a series of small holes which promise much but reward curiosity only with the realisation that you must come inside the gallery to satisfy your curiosity.

Oscar Munoz, Eclipse (2000), installation with 12 concave mirrors 20 cm each. Courtesy the artist.

During an artist's talk at INIVA, a Colombian artist in the audience praised Munoz for the openness of his works, and how they had enabled work by younger generations of Colombian artists. Certainly one of the pleasures of this exhibition was how in each piece Munoz found an image and a process which both functioned as an expression of a particular place and society, and was also open to being read as attempts to articulate a ground zero of perception and experience. Munoz own comments at the talk had similarly stressed creating work that in its openness could appear in contexts both local - the artist runs an arts centre in the Colombian city of Cali - and more global. Talking through a translator, Munoz described the nature of images as being something like this:

There is a continual flow of images or events one after the other.

The question becomes how to memorise or maintain such images when there is always the threat of new images taking their place and obliterating them.

This produces a concern with the fragility of mind and memory

Linea del destino (Line of Destiny) (2006) documents a hand full of water in which Munoz’s own image appears. The water slowly trickles away between his fingers, again instigating a process whereby the always uncertain image is rendered invisible by the loss of a surface on which its projection can be read: a water that evokes the chemicals of the photographic darkroom. Curiously, this piece also seemed crafted to highlight the surreal aspects of Munoz’s work. Black shadows between the fingers and on the hand seemed to evoke the ants that crawl out of another closely examined hand, that of Bunuel and Dali’s Un Chien Andalou. The end of the video, too, lingers on a hand made strange and suggestive, sexual and fetishistic, and which, in its status as failed water vessel, slowly fades to purple. Here Munoz hovers on the edge of psycholanalysis and, particularly, the symptoms of trauma that presence can constitute.

Two other works complete a show invigorating in its mix of rigour, deftness, substance and imagination. In Narcisso (Narcissus) (2001-02) an image has been drawn on the water surface, its clear black image also producing a shadow on the white porcelain of the sink. For a moment, as the water slowly drains away, the fainter portrait appears to be aligning with its bolder twin, but, as the process continues, the features of the drawing begin to twist and, in a rapid denouement, are reduced to ink stains on the empty sink as the last of the water disappears down the plughole. The process is again complicated by the uncertainty, when looking at the image without accompanying explanations, of what is going on. The draining away of the water is only really visible via the effect it has on the drawn faces. This takes further the emphasis on medium because here the image is not a projection but an actual part of the medium or screen. Again, video is employed to document but also to set up a particular level of distancing possessed of new perceptual conditions.

Oscar Munoz, Narcissus (2001-02), single screen projection 3:00 mins. Courtesy the artist.

I read the works upstairs as a kind of meta-commentary on this sequence of videos. In Pastiemp (2007) samples of pages from the El Pais and El Tempo newspapers are laid out on tables. These are prints of newspapers revealing the dots of which newsprint is comprised, which Munoz then pierced with a hot needle, so that the heavy pixellation of which newsprint is comprised also becomes a series of holes and burns. The needle went through the paper creating different effects and intensities and Munoz has arranged these sheets to highlight the range of effects, as well as exploring and deconstructing the newspaper form. In his display, a double fold inside a broad sheet for example, can comprise two reproductions of a title page, one heavily altered and needled, the other much lighter in tone, as if, like photographs, pages of newspapers exist in positive and negative prints.

At busy times, examining these sheets was interrupted by the sounds of heavy breathing. Aliento (Breath) (1996-2002) comprises seven small circular mirrors attached to the wall. Breathing onto them reveals a photographic image of a person taken from the newspapers. The image appeared briefly, fading alongside and amidst the pattern of one’s own breath on the screen. It was a powerful process, again making physical demands on the viewer and one that, deliberately or not, was awkward and incomplete – one had to breath hard into the centre to make the image appear and it was never an easily consumable image. Rumour abounded amongst the visitors and the gallery attendent that these were photo’s of "the disappeared" from newspapers, but, like many of the works here, such cultural and political specificity seemed comfortable to take its place amongst a broader range of aesthetic and physical possibilities.


Wolfgang Tillmans (From top:) Your Dogs (2008), Exhibition view of Lighter I-V (2006), paper drop (star) (2006). All images courtesy Maureen Paley, London.

Maureen Paley, 28th May-13 July 2008

Combining an installation of photographs with three rooms of video works, Wolfgang Tillmans’ new show emerges as a specific examination of the relationship between the two mediums. Downstairs at Maureen Paley the photos are arranged in an installation familiar to fans of his work, as a range of techniques, styles and forms of printing and presentation combine to create a powerful constellation that impacts as a whole, but creates space for the individual image; showcasing a variety of styles that could be could designated abstract, snapshot, or conceptual based but which ultimately rely on each other to move beyond these categories to participate in a broader project:

I always saw photography as an object. I never thought of a picture as being bodyless, but rather as existing within a process of transformation from three dimensions to two – a conceptual activity. (Hans Ulrich Obrist, The Conversations Series, Vol.6, 114)

Climb upstairs, however, and the question immediately arises: how does such a powerful practice – connecting the image and its display – apply to the moving image? My first thought was that Tillmans could include a whole range of work – 16mm, super 8, video, slide – but this would be far too heavy, with the presence and noise of projectors too much, even if all these media were transferred to silent digital projection (something of the delicacy of Tillmans’ relationship to different media is in his observation - also in the conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist- that he wants to take black and white photographs in a way that means people don’t realise they are black and white). Consider two seeming paradoxes:

1.His work is suffused by the cinematic – or perhaps more accurately a world and self-hood partly constituted by mass media representations – yet finds both its immersion and detachment from this via the still image.

2.He conceptualises an image that “wanders” between contexts of exhibitions, books, and multiple magazines as opposed to an image that itself moves and acquires duration.

Perhaps it is useful to start by noting the continuities rather than the differences. Like the photographic installation, Tillmans’ work with the loft space is a careful choreographing and balancing dialogue between the individual work, its combination with others, and the circumstances – the phenomenology – of its viewing. So there are three spaces. In the first Snail (2005) and Farbwerk (2006) offer short focussed studies of moments and objects, alongside 14th Street (1995), a 28 minute 16 second study of a New York street, filmed through an upper storey window. The second and most humorous room juxtaposes Peas (2003) – a study of peas boiling in a saucepan, slowing to still once the heat is turned off – and Heartbeat/Armpit (2003), which offers a close up of the armpit of a man lying on a carpet.

All these works combine spontaneity and event: Snail, for example, documents a family in its backyard, whilst in the immediate foreground a snail crawls over the hand of the cameraman. Tillmans’ creates images that balance observation and prompting – both in the way he touches the snail to prompt its movements, and in the general pretext of his presence in the yard and its influence.

Wolfgang Tillmans, photo copy (Barnaby) (1994). Courtesy Maureen Paley, London.

A third room contains Wind of Change (2003), the experience of which depends on what point in the video you enter. Come in at the middle and a pre-dusk sky is filled with a rotating, illuminated moon of a Mercedes logo. The camera observes its movements before panning down, revealing it as the rooftop sign of the Europacentre building in Berlin, whose surface is adorned with a host of other corporate logos. Finally, we see the source of the films panpipe-based muzak in a group of performing street musicians amidst the crowds of the plaza. Here the video aperture is clumsily adjusted to bring the musicians back into visibility, their music reflecting the spaces own “entanglement” – Tillmans’ own word - of enthnicity and corporate globalism. The film emerges again as an act of direct observation that becomes an argument about relationships of individuals, cultures, and institutions as they are expressed in urban space.

Tillmans use of video to bear the conceptual weight of his intellectual project is a remarkable – and perhaps somewhat old fashioned - faith in it as a medium, and one that made me think of Martha Rosler’s description of the utopian nature of early video art. I also wondered how such video work related to the concept of “freedom” that often appears in Tillman’s own discussions of his work:

It seems that everybody uses that word [freedom] today – inparticular the government – and they get to define what freedom is… Freedom is really the freedom from the known, from what some people tell you what to think… What I like to encourage people to do through my work is to use their eyes and to reclaim their freedom, to attribute values to things on their own terms. (Bob Nickas, Theft is Vision, 192)

14th Street is the one work here whose chosen environment has a diversity with the potential to move it beyond the original conception of the film maker. Over its near half hour in length, the film documents the events in the street below an upper storey window in Manhattan. The dominant technique is a zoom in on scenes of interest, held for a duration that establishes them as a scene in their own right, and then a pull back, revealing once again the broader environment of which they are part. This consciousness about framing, seeing an object both on its own terms and as part of a broader environment, is also evidenced by the presence of the glass pane of the window itself, sometimes invisible but sometimes an obvious filter or lens.

So Tillmans zooms in on and briefly follows individuals or groups in the street. At night in a rain storm he is fascinated by puddles become pools of reflected light. He focuses on smoke from a chimney against a background of blue sky, and then pulls away to reveal once again the street below. Sometimes he plays music in his apartment, creating a soundtrack for the world seen through the video camera; other times there is the ambient sound from the street. The end effect is of an attempt at a politically engaged CCTV that copies the removal and position of surveillance, but hopes to attain some efficacy through the camera’s movements and zooms, seeking to attain a sense of interest and engagement. The accumulative effect is that sometimes a focus on objects or events is replaced by a broader attention to the street as a place sculpted by light and movement. The camera zooms in on a truck moving in shadow, but we are also attentive to a patch of sunlight on the pavement behind.

Compared to the photographs, Tillmans videos are far more tentative and exploratory, uncertain about the visual world, much more crude in their methods of finding or trying to understand how attention and engagement might work. Curiously the introduction of duration increases rather than reduces mystery. It also requires a separation from the aesthetic. Whilst in Tillmans' photography casualness is a quality always accompanied by high qualities of composition and printing, here there is a genuine roughness to the image, an uneven competency with the equipment, that marks out its different place within Tillmans’ engaged, ever transforming and revelatory practice.