Wolfgang Tillman’s To Look Without Fear, currently exhibiting at the Art Gallery of Ontario until October 1st 2023, is a retrospective of the German photographer’s oeuvre. Eight years in the making and spanning 350 photographs, videos, and multimedia components, the show explores not only the photographer’s fascination with the visual culture of post-modernity, but is an astute reflection on the hypermediation of contemporary culture.
The retrospective, spanning decades, is intentionally and haphazardly curated. A melange of various media; collages, xerox prints, point and shoot images, TV static, newspaper clippings, album art, screenshots, and sketches al line the walls of the gallery, akin to the sort of visual language of the pinup collages of dormitory bedrooms, and emblematic of the frenzied and endless visual stimuli of contemporary society. The exhibition in its multiplicity of visual references and languages infers a sense of intertextuality, not just between various epochs, but of different places and forms of media. To Look Without Fear invites the spectator to revel in the inundation of visual imagery, of a world composed of and structured by its own representations.
In one corner of the gallery, images of war are juxtaposed by homo-eroticism, where images of soldiers standing on guard armed with rifles are offset by men holding one another in poses that suggest sexual and emotional intimacy. Elsewhere, noise photographed on a TV screen is displayed in staggering size, looming over the spectator, whilst images of full frontal nudity, ears with airpods, and quotidian snapshots (likely taken on a smartphone), all seem to imply a certain post-humanist perspective, where technology and corporeality at once work in tandem and exist at odds with one another.
In another corner Frank Ocean’s 2016 Blonde album art sits humbly beside a massive print of rebar and concrete, a fascinating juxtaposition of both the materiality and aesthetic aspects of culture, both intrinsic to our experience of the world we live in. Where there is aesthetic appreciation for the mundane here, there is also a structural implication to the aesthetic or artistic realm, implying how the visual languages in which we interact and embody ourselves are fundamental to the structures of culture, much like the rebar of a skyscraper structures its support columns.
Tillman’s ability to congeal disparate narratives, epochs, and subjects, from the mundane to the grandiose, and invert their relations, in aggrandizing the banal, suggests the flux within which we experience identity and subjectivity in contemporary society, and the ways in which representation shapes our understandings of importance and significance. In its haphazard and frenetic curation, and its varied subject matter, Wolfgang Tillman’s To Look Without Fear offers a chance for the spectator to do just that, to exist within the hypermediation of culture, if for just a moment, critically.
Cody is the Editor in Chief and senior contributor at liminul.
He is a photography aficionado, fashion enthusiast, avid Lana Del Rey fan, and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.
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