In: light show

On March 3, 2017, Turner Prize-winning photographer (and since 2013, Royal Academician) Wolfgang Tillmans live-premiered his sound, light and musical composition, “Fragile: Wolfgang Tillmans, Tim Knapp, and Jay Pluck,” in the South Tank gallery at London’s Tate Modern. Though this performance was billed online by the Tate as an “open-form music installation” that is “part rehearsal, part performance,” this reviewer experienced the event as more of a hybrid, twenty-first-century happening/sound installation composed of: light, sound, slide projection, video, spectator participation, spoken word, poetry, and original music –all of which were interlaced with political and social commentary relating to current global issues. “Fragile” —a reference to Tillmans’ alter ego— was as an immersive, full-body, and multi-sensory aesthetic and political experience that complemented, and extended, Tillmans’ parallel exhibition of photographs, video, musical, and other works, now also on view (until June 11, 2017) in the Boiler House at the Tate Modern.

Photo: Anke Schulz.

“Fragile” comprises a diverse variety of audio-visual media, including originally-composed, pre-recorded dance club music (perhaps a nod to the Berghain club in Berlin), audio field recordings (e.g., the voice of a Sainsbury’s self-checkout counter, and sounds of a Berlin subway train), a lightshow, dance videos, and photography projected onto the walls of the large, cylindrical space of the South Tank. Just prior to the artists’ appearance on stage, a rainbow-coloured light sculpture appeared in the near-dark space, the individual lights of which began to rotate and bathe the audience, and interior walls of the usually grey, concrete walls of the South Tank, in jewel-tones of light. The rainbow light sculpture seemed to symbolise both the identity of the artist, and that of the LGBTQ community, and Tillmans effectively used it to define the exhibition space as a queer, safe place for collective reflection, political consciousness-raising, and action.

Photo: Anke Schulz.

The full performance of “Fragile” (lasting 100 minutes) featured alternately-played, live and pre-recorded multi-media segments, ranging in length from approximately thirty seconds to ten minutes. Many of the live pieces were performed by Tillmans himself, who —in a departure from his still photography in which he rarely depicts his own image— began to tentatively, and intermittently, occupy center stage. Tillmans’ pieces mixed poetry and song to express his concerns about human rights and other global political, social, and environmental crises.

During the performance, Tillmans was accompanied by deep bass, techno, and house-inspired music played by his bandmates, Tim Knapp and Jay Pluck, as he sang texts, such as:

“Come out, speak out, for your life and for your rights!”

“Because it happened before, it can’t happen again.”

“Twenty-five years ago, I could never have thought that this could have happened.”

“His son had recently been angered by seeing two men kissing.”

Photo: Anke Schulz.

For this reviewer, “Fragile” seemed to articulate several themes of crucial importance to the artist. One of these was the concept of community, which Tillmans created through his all-welcome, free-of-charge admissions policy, and his use of the round, inclusive gallery space of the Tate Modern’s South Tank. A second important theme was LGBTQ and human rights, which Tillmans rightly interprets as subject to massive attack in our contemporary society. Lastly, the performance appeared to have an aesthetic purpose as well, namely to “blur the border between still and motion pictures” —a feat Tillmans successfully accomplished in both his live performance of “Fragile,” and his parallel exhibition at Tate Modern.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 is on view at Tate Modern until 11 June 2017.

What happens when you light a pompous baroque room with yellow mono-frequency light? Or when you look at 18th century plastering through colorful kaleidoscopes? Olafur Eliasson asks and answers these questions in his current exhibition at the Winter Palace in Vienna, where the Belvedere shows a significant selection of the Danish-Icelandic artist’s works.

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The former city residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, one of the most successful military commanders in modern European history, the Winter Palace was always an important site during baroque times in Vienna and it is now a place to encounter art in between baroque architecture and a contemporary setting. By putting Eliasson’s work in contrast to the vast interior, two worlds and two epochs collide – the result is more than overwhelming: the visitor is given the chance to be immersed in a world of pure illusion, light and color.

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The light installation The Organic and Crystalline Description welcomes us in the vestibule, where light occupies the wall, floor and ceiling and creates the feeling of being underwater. On the grand stairway, the Yellow Corridor gives a new approach to reality through mono-frequency light that limits the range of visible color to just yellow and black, sharpening our senses. As Eliasson puts it: “Seeing only one color suggests that there are none at all. Color is dependent on the existence of other colors in order to be understandable.” In the following rooms there are different optical machines and installations, such as Kaleidoscope, New Berlin Sphere and Your Welcomed Reflected, offering an even deeper immersion into the world of perception, transformation and deconstruction of reality.

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It is fascinating to witness the contrast between old and new and the transformation of old things into new ones depending on contextual surroundings. By always immersing into the works of art and getting a bodily experience, we leave the site with sharpened senses, wondering about the relationship between the body, perception, and images. Everyday habits of seeing and experiencing details are questioned and challenged.

The whole show, indeed, has a sheer beauty to itself and bears an aesthetic quality that speaks to the visitor in an exceptional way.

On view at the Winter Palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy through March 6th, 2016.