1x1 ON WOLFGANG TILLMANS: TO LOOK WITHOUT FEAR
tree filling window, 2002
I’m afraid of heights, so I’ve never been one for jumping out of windows à la Yves Klein, but the view through tree filling window might just persuade me. In this 2002 photograph, Wolfgang Tillmans squares his camera’s viewfinder with the large, green tree seen through an open casement window, two sets of panes inclining toward the artist and viewer. The image extends almost to the edges of the paper, and because it is printed large at 82 1/16 by 54 5/16 inches, plausibly replicates the size of the original window. This reiteration of actual size does something unusual in Tillmans’s uvre: it not only captures our world, it creates a second one of its very own—a green world, to use a phrase literary theory has borrowed from Thomas More.
Tillmans’s green world is, first and foremost, green. In an intricate play between positive and negative space and projection and reflection, Tillmans’s picture casts the world viridescent. tree filling window was taken on an overcast day, and the colors of its background, outer window frames (which counterintuitively face in), and glare on the glass closely match the white walls of a gallery space. The tree seems to float before the wall onto which its physical support is tacked; it materializes and dissolves. That dissolution is echoed in the reflections captured in the windows’ panes, which mirror a color so saturated that green projects onto the windows, seeps into the darker box into which the window frame is set, and informs the color of the shadows on the safety bar that stretches across the lower quarter of the opening. The whole is verdantly packed, placing it within Tillmans’s body of work nearer to chromatically manipulated works like I don’t want to get over you (2000) than his other images of trees and plants.
In this exhibition, tree filling window has been installed using white binder clips to hang the photograph. We can imagine the different affect the image might have if, for example, it were Tillmans’s practice to house his pictures within lightboxes: the correspondence between window and frame would be even more congruent, and the light we perceive might even be felt. But it seems important that tree filling window is not given such a treatment. The binder clips are strong, as is needed for such a heavy piece of paper, but also humble, almost casual. They reinforce the uncanniness of the image precisely because of that informality: this wonderous pastoral is somehow held and beheld by the merely commonplace. We see into the image—the single-point perspective of the open windows leads us there—and see our world believably sent back out to us, though a world we can’t and don’t occupy. They are distinct. Green worlds are “ambiguous,” in that they provide a moment for clarity within everyday life, while also “project[ing] … the urge … to escape, work magic, abolish time and flux and the intrusive reality of other minds.”1 Thus, the moment’s consideration of leaping into its void. It is Tillmans’s peculiar gift to take pictures that make me want to explore the realm beyond their depiction by offering up a version of one I already know.
- Harry Berger, Jr. “The Renaissance Imagination: Second World and Green World,” The Centennial Review vol. 9, no. 1 (Winter 1965): p. 73–4.