A FILM OF STILLS: WOLFGANG TILLMANS’S STUDY OF THE ANTHROPOCENE
Should in 500 years the earth be covered in a thick layer of ice, not much of today’s built environment will be visible. That superficial stratum, which existed for only a few thousand years, will be buried, along with the species that spent so much time and effort developing this fragile fabric. Wolfgang Tillmans’s Book for Architects, a two-channel high-resolution video projection of stills which he conceived for the 2014 Venice architecture Biennale, and which was presented the next year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is a testament to that thin built layer: a document of the reality of the anthropocene at this given time. While Book for Architects provides an archaeological account of today’s built world, it is aimed — and is a gift to — today’s architects. It is a welcomed gift, an insight into a world of buildings, houses, construction details, stairs, and saunas that an architect’s eye is often blind to. Tillmans’s camera is generous, and seems motivated by a genuine interest in documenting how we inhabit the world, from snaps of familiar places, to oblique instances of pedigreed architecture, to generic interiors, domestic and public alike. Architects might have a sentimental response to all this because we labor under the illusion of living in a “projected” world where the arrangement of spaces and the master planning of cities dictate to some degree movements and uses. Book for Architects reveals that even the most formalized spaces are subject to the destructive force of chance, and that control is just an architect’s dream.
Just as some Renaissance artists also produced architecture, Tillmans has been able to create spaces with his installations, often by means of thin sheets of printed paper, hung unframed on walls. For his installations in Venice and New York, Tillmans also designed his own cinema-like quarter-circle seating, allowing visitors to sit down and take in the 40-minute loop of 480 images from 37 countries, and to understand what architecture really looks like. Through Tillmans’s lens, however, even harsh realities are narrated with kindness. That makes Book for Architects, as well as the documentation of it — which exists on the preceding pages as a meta-space parallel to the ongoing installation and in continuum with the spaces he captured around the world — both urgent and enduring.
All images taken from Film of Stills, a special documentation produced by Wolfgang Tillmans exclusively for PIN–UP 17, Fall Winter 2014, based on Book for Architects’s installation during the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale.