Freischwimmer 230, 2012

Wolfgang Tillmans

Production Year


The present work belongs to Tillmans’s Freischwimmer series. Created in the darkroom by manually exposing light sources to photographic paper before processing, these works present a visual conundrum. As indicated by their title, which translates to “freestyle swimming,” they appear to involve the liberal movement of fluids across a surface, with large areas of gradating monochrome color interrupted by wave-like lines. That the effect was rather achieved by hand, with the marks literally tracing Tillmans’s movements, invariably adds a painterly dimension to the abstractions, which on first impression do not resemble photographs at all. While these works break with the common expectations to identify figurative elements within the photographic image, inviting but ultimately rejecting attempts to see reality mirrored in the surface of the paper, they are nonetheless photographs in the fullest sense of the word. Indeed, it is possible to see the abstract lines, dots, and splotches as emphasizing the indexical, mark-making characteristic of the photographic process, which takes place regardless of whether a camera is involved. More so than simply registering light, as with automatic images, these elements testify to the physical presence of the artist and encompass touch and movement. As such, they are about embodiment and their own manifestation. Qualities specific to photography, such as the blur that occurs when the exposure is out of focus, can likewise be detected in some of the Freischwimmer works, just as any alternations between bright and shaded areas are fully representational, and not illusory. Source: David Zwirner Gallery, January 2019