Wolfgang Tillmans: "I want to help preserve the queer scene."

17. Apr. 2020
Bild: Marcus Witte
artist and photographer Wolfgang Tillmans

With the campaign "2020Solidarity" artist and photographer Wolfgang Tillmans and his foundation Between Bridges support the SIEGESSÄULE in their appeal for donations. We talked to him about the campaign, his commitment to the queer scene and the relationship between politics and art

Wolfgang, do you remember when and where you came across your first Siegessäule? I think it was in 1984. We were on a school trip to Berlin and stayed at a youth hostel, which was right next to the gay center at the time. I just stumbled in and took all the informational material a sixteen-year-old would be likely to take. (laughs)

Were you already out at the time? Not really, well, kind of. At the end of that year I told my parents. I moved to England in 1990 and have been visiting Berlin regularly ever since. I always made sure to grab a Siegessäule while I was there. I'll have to have a look at home. I collect gay ephemera, flyers, free magazines and stuff like that. I think it's an important piece of history. I appreciate Siegessäule's journalistic quality. In London, you just have Boyz and qx, which have zero journalism, just party photos, and where all the content is matched with paying advertisers. It's similar in New York. There's a huge difference. For this reason alone, I have always had a lot of appreciation for Siegessäule or similar magazines.

Why is Siegessäule an important medium, an important institution for this city in general? I believe that despite the fact that gays and lesbians have found their way into the mainstream, it is still important that there is a medium that looks at this scene, cultural scene and all aspects of cultural and political life from this perspective. Some may ask, “Do we really need this?” I think emancipation is never over and there are always social issues to be discussed. Siegessäule examines all the issues that are of concern to us.

You have decided to support our fundraising campaign with your art and work of other artists, which you have collected. How did this decision come about? When the Corona crisis began, I quickly realized that I wanted to get involved. On one hand with my foundation Between Bridges, but privately as well. Just like I have been getting involved and donating these past years. I feel that this is my duty. Many people aren't able to spend money right now. But those who can, should. It helps to keep a lot of things going. Then I came up with the idea of extending the commonly used fundraising approach of offering limited editions, to a larger poster action with many different artists. That's how “2020Solidarity” came about. The project provides these art posters to organizations in need for their crowdfunding campaigns. This all developed within one week. And now we offer both on your site: a few limited, expensive works and the first posters from the “2020Solidarity” project, which hopefully will be used by many people in many countries for their funding.

How did you hear about Siegessäule's situation? Siegessäule and I both work with the same IT company. I found out about it through my technician. But it doesn't take a genius to figure out that you guys are affected twofold. Your distribution channels are also your advertising customers and both are closed. But I think you can't just disappear. What's gone today won't be coming back tomorrow. I want to help preserve the queer scene. It is valuable and not just fun and drinks all the time. These are essential free spaces, which are connected through media like Siegessäule. And these spaces aren't just for hedonism. I think it is something that creates identity and for many people it is the experience of a kind of freedom that they don't have where they come from.

Is this sociopolitical aspect also an integral part of art in general? Does this correspond with your understanding of art? It can be a part of it, but it doesn't have to be. I think the great thing about art is that it is useless. It's not a roof over your head, it's not bread in your hand. And the fact that it is so extremely unapplied and undirected makes it so unique. I also sometimes describe art in terms of undirected research. Normally, research or even design has a goal. Architecture has a goal and then researches in the appropriate direction. But art is free in its nature and does not have to obey or serve anyone. And that in itself is a political, a social statement. Of course, I have often been asked in recent years: “Do artists have to or should they get more involved?“ And then I always say that every baker should get more involved. Or bankers. It's not just artists that should be made to put an effort. On the other hand, artists who do want to engage themselves, should do just that.

Art is free, so it can of course be charged with meaning very easily. You spoke of a baker – creating a politically charged bread roll is probably more difficult than creating politically charged art. Right. And the other way around. Now I have very much been “defending“ the artists. I can only encourage my colleagues. What we do inherently has an identity-forming effect. Everything that has changed positively in society has also been accompanied by music, clothing, pictures. Not taking responsibility for this is actually completely unrealistic. Politics and art are natural bedfellows.

How do you assess the situation created by the Corona pandemic? What are the prospects for the situation or what is the possible utopia in the context of Corona - socially, politically, maybe even artistically? It is dangerous to speculate. What I find shocking is to see that the wealth that has accumulated since the financial crisis seems to be quite insufficient after all. Actually, so much value has been created since then, so much economic life, economic activity, which has also generated something. In other words, which has created money. But still, the system in America shifts into reverse as soon as it is not in absolute forward gear. I think that societal questions need to be asked like: What are we even working for? I hope everyone is aware that as long as health workers are still being underpaid, applauding them every night is only acceptable as an absolute promise of wage increases after the crisis. Otherwise, it is a mere insult. And also questions about a general basic income for all or why individuals are able to earn such huge profits...

That cutting back is possible, is a feeling that is going through my mind right now. Especially in terms of consumption. Yes, but at the same time you have to be extremely careful about applauding it. We were already getting into that mindset thanks to Greta Thunberg. We knew that things were getting out of hand, that too much was being used, demanded and consumed. The problem is that -we- can afford to feel that a break might not be such a bad thing, especially here in secure Europe. We can play with these thoughts. But the housekeeper in India that was dismissed last week and sent home to the countryside is suffering from hunger now. For these people cutting back is not so ideal. The people who make the clothes for Zara in Bangladesh, they're just sitting there now with no social welfare, they don't have any government support. We can't just say, slowing down is great, fast fashion is over, and we won't travel to Spain any more and save a few miles. These are entire economies, people's lives depending on it. Going back to the way it was before is certainly not the solution, but we have to be considerate of the consequences for others.

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#photographer#Between Bridges#artist#Wolfgang Tillmans#2020Solidarity#SIEGESSÄULE#Corona