Executed in 2005, Freischwimmer 119,
belongs to Wolfgang Tillmans' highly coveted eponymous series, whose title refers to German levels of swimming proficiency and embodies the artist’s most conceptually complex and visually enigmatic contribution to contemporary art. The works deliver a form of non-representational photography that calls into question the verisimilitude and objectivity principally associated with the medium. Images that elucidate no concrete reality except for their own, these pictures challenge pre-established boundaries, achieving exquisite painterly abstraction through an entirely mechanical photographic process. Created in the darkroom without the use of a camera, these works echo the avant-garde photographic experiments of Man Ray and György Kepes. However, unlike these early iterations of the photographic medium, in which photo-sensitive paper is exposed to light in stages and solid objects are used to impart intriguing light effects, the exact process behind Tillmans' Freischwimmer
works has not been revealed. Shrouded in mystery, Tillmans’ alchemical mastery of light takes on the appearance of pigment, and purports a lyrical sense of light-painting that constructs a tranquil, contemplative photographic space. Evocative of the undulating movements of water or the subtle effusions of wind, these transfixing chromatic landscapes captivate the viewer in an exhilarating visual experience, which is enhanced by the works’ impressive and monumental scale.
The photographic practice of German-born artist Wolfgang Tillmans encompasses a broad spectrum of genres – from portraiture, and landscape, through to still life and abstraction. In 2000, Tillmans was the first photographer and non-British artist to win the Turner Prize and his multifaceted practice will be celebrated with a seminal exhibition at Tate Modern, London from February – June 2017.