Published on the occasion of the 2009 exhibition Mike Kelley: Photographs / Sculptures at Wako Works of Art in Tokyo, this catalogue features color images of six photographic series and a body of sculptural works by the artist. A number of self-portraits from 1978 mimic 19th century spirit photography, and depict Kelley emitting cotton ball “ectoplasm” from his head.
The Ectoplasm series is linked to a project made in association with artist David Askevold in 1978, titled “The Poltergeist.” David and I shared an interest in the aesthetics of the occult which led us to make a series of photographic works that addressed that history. We did not work collaboratively, though we had numerous discussions about the project as it was developed. Each artist’s works were produced independently, but with the intention that they should be seen simultaneously to inflect the reading of the other. My portion of the project includes faux spiritualist photographs of a “medium” (myself) exuding the mysterious ethereal substance ectoplasm. The photos mimic the look of period spiritualist photography from the early part of the 20th century
Another photographic series depicts dancer Anita Pace through a Vaseline-coated lens, and two untitled groups of photographs capture amorphous globules and puddles through a combination of layered negatives and colored gels. Also featured is an essay written by Kelley to accompany the exhibition, and a number of poetic texts printed in conjuction with the photographs.
René Burri x Comme des Garçons: (note: Burri’s photographs were used for all the 2012 direct mail catalogs, no.1 above) “It all began because Rei Kawakubo found me. She has an incredible sense of going beyond. When she sent me the first designs, I was amazed because she owned all of my old books. Even the ones from the 1960s, that I did on Germany. She took my work, respected the images and made them into collages in a very interesting way. It is almost like recycling. Taking the same ingredients, but making a new combination, whilst keeping the spirit of things. I was so impressed. In a way, it took my own work further from what I had done at the time, because all I was really doing was going on and on. I couldn’t stop. I am the first photographer in the Comme des Garçons series . When her and Adrian Joffe first asked me to be involved, they showed me the work of Ai Weiwei. I remember turning to Rei and saying “but what can I do, how can i do it?”. She told me that I didn’t have to do anything. That she would take my work, recycle the images and design them. I just saw the last one in the series, no. 29. Rei is really unbelievable. Now, here I am, confronted with a construction of my own work.”
DazedDigital: Neue Welt captures images from a diversity of cities and landscapes. What drove you to undertake such an adventure?
Wolfgang Tillmans: After spending the decade from 1999 to 2009 working on abstract pictures and conceptual work, I felt really interested in looking at what the world looks like today, 20 years after I started making my pictures of it for the first time. I gradually began to look out into the world again, and it became more and more solidified to become this new project. Then I made deliberate travels for it and it became this four year project in the making.
DD: How did you go about choosing what kind of destinations you went to?
Wolfgang Tillmans: I choose mythical places from childhood memory like Papua New Guinea, or the furthest away fields like Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, the most southern city in the world. But then also there’s Nottingham, there’s New York, there’s London. It wasn’t about exotic places per se; it was about looking at everything in a new way.
DD: You picked up a digital camera for the first time in this series. What made you decide to start using digital technology?
Wolfgang Tillmans: It came about when I realised that there was a portable lightweight SLR, which had a sensor the size of 35mm film. Before, sensors were much smaller and it just looked different optically. When I realised that the lens that I had on my 35mm camera would perform exactly the same way on the new digital camera, I realised that it would be nostalgic to stay with the old. I thought: “Let’s learn on my own terms in my own time, how to speak this language.”
DD: Did your approach to photography change with the technology?
Wolfgang Tillmans: There isn’t a complete break – 15% of the photos in Neue Welt are still analogue. But I arrived at photography by first working with the first digital photocopier in 1986. Digital printing had always interested me, but film was always finer and sharper and so I never needed to change for that. It sounds weird to talk so much about technology, but it is a very exciting moment in history. New art and new music has happened because of technological developments, so it is actually needed for what is going on.
DD: One of the charges against conventional travel photographer per se is that it exotifies foreignness. How do you engage with that criticism?
Wolfgang Tillmans: By being honest about the superficiality of the position that I’m coming from. The word ‘superficiality’ is usually used in a negative way, but it is a reality. Some things we can only experience on the surface, and that still is an experience, it doesn’t make that nothing. There is no threshold when a critical depth can be achieved, you know? My next project at Maureen Paley, Central Nervous System, looks for five years at one person. It’s a whole exhibition looking at one person, but at the end, what are we looking at? We are still looking at the surface of the world.
DD: The new issue of Dazed & Confused is themed around #tripping. What was the trip that stuck out most for you?
Wolfgang Tillmans: I went to Tanzania; I had never felt any desire to go and see safari animals. But that was also part of the approach that I had, to go and challenge yourself and challenge your own clichés. I was surprised how good it was to like be in this African landscape! All these places, the Iguazu Waterfalls in Brazil or the Sydney Opera House or a lion in Kilimanjaro, they are all real when you’re there. They are not clichés. You have to leave your own jadedness at home, which is hard, but you just go and try not to frown at all the other tourists. It’s democracy. DD: So there’s not much different between you, and someone with a handheld camera…?
Wolfgang Tillmans: Well, we’re all humans, and we’re all guests on this planet, sometimes wandering about in wonder and amazement. That’s sort of democratic – well it’s not a democratic experience, not everybody can afford it – but looking at the world with open eyes, that is a democratic experience.