Over the years, Tillmans has been involved in numerous AIDS and HIV awareness-raising initiatives. In 2002, an AIDS memorial designed by Tillmans was unveiled in Munich. He modelled it on the blue, tiled columns in Sendlinger Tor station, an alighting point for the city’s gay and lesbian district.
An inscription on the column commemorates the extensive network of people affected: “AIDS/ den Toten/ den Infizierten/ ihren Freunden/ ihren Familien/ 1981 bis heute” (AIDS/ The dead/ The infected/ Their friends/ Their families/ 1981 to today).
Though his direct political engagement may seem poles apart from the subtle poetry of his better-known photography, the various aspects of Tillmans’s practice come together in his interest in community. It is a theme as prominent in the creation of public platforms and memorials as it is his approach to display.
Typical of his style, photographs in “Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017” are presented in associative groups, so that the affinities between them are fundamental to the way we view any single frame. In one room at the Tate Modern, an image of a dust-covered car on a roadside in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, keeps company with a four-foot-tall photograph of a weed growing through the cracks in Tillmans’s London garden.
Taken thousands of miles apart, they are united by an appreciation of fragility, and ideas of erosion, destruction, and regrowth—and are all the more affecting for the unexpectedness of their alliance.