Wolfgang Tillmans, 2018



From photography to sound, Wolfgang Tillmans unravels layers of consciousness, his and ours. To me, discovering his work was an experience I can only compare to a self-discovery. Like in every self-discovery, we don’t immediately connect to everything we see and not everything is instantly relevant. Some things we refuse, some we aggressively confront. Some images come back to us later or appear in a chaotic dream. Or in hot summer when we bite a soft plum. From universe to politics, Wolfgang Tillmans is a spectator and a participant. From sex to an inkjet printer, there are no alternative truths to the fragility of existence. - Marko Milovanovic

My (MM) conversation with Wolfgang Tillmans (WT) at the Architectural Association in London on October 4th 2018.





MM
Do you remember the evening of the 22nd of June 2016? According to personal account Wolfgang Tillmans was crossing the Millennium Bridge, behind from Tate Modern, on his right yellow-red sky after sunset. Tears in his eyes. He thought to himself that this could be the final evening before a new era. Two days later he recalled this moment and promises of openness of year 2000. The year Millennium Bridge was built, the year Tate Modern was established in the former Bankside Power Station, the year he became first non-British artist to be awarded Turner Prize. With the Brexit vote Wolfgang has yet again witnessed fragility in life, but consciously or not in this account he seems to offer a glimpse of hope in one thing that remains more robust than many other fragilities in our society. That is the building behind him. The bridge below his feet.

I would also argue that a glimpse of hope is Wolfgang’s work itself and its hyper-realistic humanity even at the most abstract.

Wolfgang, if we are to start with humanity and I feel we should - I thought how? And then I thought there is this most humane question of all which is also the most inhumane question, because when we ask the question, we almost don't have the time or empathy to hear the answer: so I'd just like to ask you - how are you?

WT
Oh. I tend to say well.

MM
That's a very English answer.

WT
Generally, I'm good. I'm in the midst of a very long stretch of this year, of very exciting activity and it would be really wrong to complain because amazing things have been happening. So I’m on my last stretch until the end of the year after which I have a little break.

MM
So there is so much going on all the time and often your work is described as a kind of entering into your head and seeing the world through your eyes which I've always felt doesn't necessarily need to be this kind of “being John Malkovich” experience which people think it is. I feel it's more like, you go to bed at night, and are we allowed to say that you've had a little nap before we started, and then you close your eyes and there are these kind of images in front of your eyes because there's so much going on. What are those images?

WT
I very much enjoyed the in-between state between being awake and falling asleep. And I feel
very grateful that I can do that in daytime as well, for just for 20 minutes and drift in and out, it feels like rewiring of the brain. And at night I don’t think much before I sleep, I don't run through the day or anything like that.

MM
I feel you have this very strong sense for the rest of the world, the world around you. And I'm wondering what is it? Is it a German thing? There is a good German word for world pain.

WT
Weltschmerz?

MM
Yes. Do you feel weltschmerz?

WT
No. Why should I feel the pain of the world all the time. Weltschmerz is an interesting word because it's actually often used for children. They have some sense of the pain of just being alive. Like the burden of carrying the fact that you are alive on your shoulders. You know, we're always told to love being alive. But my late partner, boyfriend Jochen Klein always said - life is a scandal. It’s also hard to bare. I mean I'm extremely positive and optimistic, but being put into this world is also an imposition.

MM
I started with this first image of you on the evening before Brexit and the day after Brexit. You claimed on one of your posters, and this was pre-Brexit, that what is lost is lost forever, which is quite a pessimistic claim. What has happened since and where is the hope?

WT
The sentence came to my mind whilst I was in a club in Brooklyn called Spectrum, which was an illegal monthly queer night in some fire trap. New York has become so sanitized. Nightlife has become either non-existent or sterile and this was one little pocket of freedom and it was a very fragile pocket. And I thought if this is gone then there's not going to be another one right around the corner to replace it. So I had this protective sense, a sense of appreciation. That then also became a line in a song, and then it ended up on one of the Brexit posters. Because the Brexiters always talked about this as a minor thing. You know, we're just exchanging this organization. We don't like the Brussels machine. this has nothing to do with the people and the peoples of Europe -  when in fact, of course this machine is not a faceless machine. It is actually the representation of those 500 million people. And once you destroy that, there is not a replacement for it. It took 70 years, it took an incredible bloodshed to bring the people of Europe together, to leave their past behind.

MM
Where do you see hope in this particular moment? Brexit has happened. That was your message before Brexit, what would be the one sentence message now?

WT
I mean, as we know, it hasn't happened yet.

(audience laughs)

MM
That is hope.

WT
The reason why I so very much opposed it and tried to do everything I could to stop it, was that I knew that with the mentality of the British press this would get ugly the moment things turned out difficult. And that suddenly, it will not be that machine anymore and there will be names called. And in good football tradition, it will be the Germans, it will be the French that are called. It will not be Slovenia or Finland. It brought out a nationalism that was definitely not as fierce as before. It was a peculiarity in the European family. But there is something that it's not as nice and all these voices are pitted against each other. There is little room for compromise and little room to turn back. So even though I said it hasn't happened yet, I also can't quite see how, without losing face, this can be undone. It can probably only end in an endless transition phase.

MM
Is there anything, and I know it would sound controversial, but is there anything positive that has happened to the society as a result? Is it a matter of awakening and shifting things? Jean-Paul Sartre said very controversially that Paris was never freer than under the Nazi occupation, that you need to experience something drastic to exercise your freedom or to push boundaries of it.

WT
Well, I really don't like that narrative, also that art is particularly creative in hard times. I really hate it actually. Because what would be the logic then? Should we have shit times so that the art gets better? Sorry, what was the question again?

MM
The question of whether you see any awakening?

WT
Exactly. And that has been a bit disappointing I must say. That the British public, or the liberal public, is not outraged. They may be outraged privately but on the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on March 17th last year, there was an anti-Brexit demonstration in Hyde Park and that was the last time they asked me if I wanted to adapt my posters and I said - it is after the event and I don't want to speak out now as a foreign person, though 25 years a Londoner. Anyway, I thought this could be the last moment where a mass demonstration could do something and there were literally only 30 thousand people. And then this year, that was the second anniversary of Brexit, and this was a sizeable demonstration, there was 100 thousand people in the West End. Some of you are too young, but a lot of you I'm sure have been on the streets in March 2003. There were 1.5 million people on the streets of London. One million plus to demonstrate against the Iraq war. And when you think about the gravity of what's happening right now and that there were only 100 thousand people on the street, then…

MM
Is it a symptom that's happening across the world?

WT
No. The women's march in Washington the day after Trump won was huge.

MM
What about the rest of Europe? Paris? Berlin?

WT
I mean, there isn't a particular event to demonstrate against like Brexit.

MM
Well, Trump’s visit to Paris went fairly smoothly.

WT
Yeah but that's also a different thing. You know that wasn't the eve of causing a huge catastrophic war or causes of the event of undoing 40 years of treaties and collaboration. Certainly, the French, and I don't like to say “the French” but they obviously do demonstrate. They do believe in speaking out publicly.

MM
In 2010 there was an interview prior to your Serpentine Gallery show where you reflected on the state of London as a city. At that particular moment you suggested that was the end of a golden era of London. Where is London today?

WT
I guess we all agree that London is aching, that is in pain. And it's a difficult time. The situation where 35 year old employees, well-paid employees at Barclays Bank cannot afford to live in their own apartment and cannot afford to start a family. I mean that is a situation. Property prices are known to be a problem in many places in the world, but in London it is really debilitating lives and it is depressing people. I don't understand why there isn't one party, for example undoing, suggesting to undo the short term tenancy. For example, all the years that I rented in London I've only ever had security for one year. At the 11th month the landlord could have said bye bye and that's just not the case in most European countries. There is a certain acceptance in the UK population for things that are just a hardship. I can’t say they like it but… But the man who is tired of London is tired of life, we know…

MM
Are you tired?

WT
No, I'm not tired of London, I'm not tired of life. I love London and when I'm in Berlin where I'm now spending more time, there I feel I don't miss anything. And the moment I am in London I feel this is home. Obviously it's the home of seven million people or so.

MM
So you have been in Berlin since 2010, 2011 and the reason is?

WT
It was really on one hand that my boyfriend Angus had moved back to Berlin three years earlier and a long distance relationship took its toll. But also the landlord of my studio in Bethnal Green would not really do anything about the state of the roof. And…

MM
Practical reasons.

WT
The sense of “this is not really sustainable”. If even I as a successful and wealthy person cannot really feel protected in my four walls. And when keeping a fragile archive is not really sustainable in the zone two – the option would have been to go to Ilford or something. You know what, people always say, people party in Berlin and don't work in Berlin. I mean I found myself to be working all the time in London and I found out that you can work really well in Berlin and have a good time on top. And also coming to London now I like to enjoy the city more.

MM
So if we just briefly go back to Brexit and we know it has impacted your life, I'm interested to know whether it's actually impacted your work?

WT
Well it has impacted my life because at the beginning of 2016, I felt a sense of emergency that if no one speaks out positively for the EU then this thing will go wrong. Even if the remain people only talk tentatively in favor, and they didn’t even talk about it in favour but they only talked about the risk. So nobody spoke positively and I felt it is a personal emergency and I have to do something and in that moment I found words for the first time. Often, in previous years, I had ideas for posters and activist, anti-xenophobic messages or so, but I never found language that could really work with them. And there I suddenly became clear, in that moment language appeared.

MM
So is the language now staying in the realm of activism?

WT
Yes, so it has impacted me because suddenly I found myself being an activist which I had no direct intention to or no ambition to be. Then, in March 2016 there were three regional state elections in Germany and the Alternative for Deutschland, a right wing party got 15 percent of the vote. I thought I will carry this on until September 17 when we had federal elections in Germany and so that emergency extended. Then of course the Trump emergency happened and many, many more. I feel that this has directly impacted my life in terms of time. I spent a lot of time thinking about these things, doing things, and now I focus energy towards the European parliamentary elections in May next year (2019) which will face organized, well-orchestrated attack from anti-European parties and American and Russian interests who want to try to undermine the EU from the inside using the low voter turnout that is typical for the EU elections. I want to give as much as I can for that cause, to raise voter turn out there and in a way that would be a three year cycle. And I hope that there is a hope at the end. The far right situation is that, in continental Europe, 80 percent do not vote far right and if they got together that wouldn't allow the whole political discourse to be constantly shifted to the right by the 15 percent, by the 22 percent. Even the Sweden Democrats didn’t get 20 percent. 18 percent. I mean please, that entire Swedish political discussion is about these people and they are former neo-Nazi party. The 82 percent need to understand the severity of the situation.

MM
So it looks like your activism brought you onto the social media. Where are the battlegrounds for this fight?

WT
I think it becomes ever more clear that what we are experiencing in the last few years is really the backlash of white males against 50 years of success of emancipation, be that women's rights or gay and lesbian LGBTI or more racial equality progress. So there's been an incredible progressive success in society in the last 50 years and only because it's been so successful we see this backlash. I mean in particular in America it unfortunately can be called racism. Research has shown that is a key point for the Trump revolution. The other is nationalism which goes hand-in-hand, meaning anti-multilateralism. And the important one, that is not discussed so much is the ideology of deregulation, which is a capitalist ideology. There are full-on market economy capitalists that hate any kind of regulation. Rupert Murdoch, the main driving force behind Brexit is for example one of the American billionaires that hates the EU for the regulations that, not imposes, they didn't invent them, but the EU acts because the 28 governments and heads of government asked them to act. For example things like health and safety regulations and food standards, all those are called regulations and we are now to believe that regulations are bad. But regulations are actually good in many cases. And reining in banks and this ideology of deregulation is extremely powerful.

MM
At times in your interviews and your writing the kind of feeling of powerlessness comes through. I was wondering whether you do feel powerless?

WT
I don't feel powerless. I also don't feel that only winning is making your cause worthwhile. I think every vote, every mind that you change matters. The measure of success doesn’t begin at one thousand opinions that you change. But, I guess I am powerless, when there is this very particular situation in the UK and the US that the majority of the media, and particularly in the UK, is owned by three tax exile billionaires and they are exactly following that ideology of deregulation and anybody that wants to try to regulate how we live together through multilateral agreements - they fight and fight and fight. There is no alliance here that is even calling that out. The fact that this whole country is dominated by these three families is of course making me feel powerless but this is one example, in general we have to believe in democracy, one man one vote and it's a slow process.

MM
I'm really wondering how I take this conversation now towards an image, a photograph or an image.  Is there a role of an image in in this context?

WT
I've always had a very strong sense of my time. Even as an 18 year old, a 15 year old, 23 year old and I've always had a sense of that the freedoms that I am enjoying are not to be taken for granted and that other people have fought for them before I was born or before I was mature. I’ve always had a sense of my work being very aware of its time and describing the time that I am in. At the same time I didn't want to be a politician. I didn't want to be an activist as such but thought that form of photography and speaking through pictures that don't have to be explained or don't explain themselves literally all the time was the right way to speak, for me. And the way that I was always in love with high art and pop art, a popular culture, I found that photography was a medium that works in both areas and I developed them simultaneously. It's not that one came before the other. And I guess that was a particularly lucky time when I started that that was even possible.

MM
So when we talk about photography - are you still looking for truth? Because truth is very important in the political context, in a political conversation.

WT
I never looked for truth in the work as an absolute. It's impossible to talk about it across the entire spectrum. Because of course when you're talking a flat earth conspiracy theories, I would like to ask that we please agree on an absolute truth - this earth is round. But then further down the spectrum I would never have set out to say - I am trying to find truth.

MM
Are there aspects of your work which you think may be more truthful than the others?

WT
In art, true really means when it's true to its intentions, because art is always lying about what it is depicting. Photography is always lying about what is in front of the camera, because it's always interpretation. You know, what is on the paper is not the world, but what photography never lies about are the intentions behind the camera. And that really goes for most art forms, that art describes or picks up very carefully, truthfully the intentions behind the work. So, if I approach you in a portrait with a sense of arrogance, that arrogance will show. And if I made an exact graphic plan of how to take your picture and I don't want to take any risks and then just use you as a shape then me using you as a shape will be the dominant feeling that will come from that work. And that is what I have done all my life, a careful observation of cause and effect. And how I look into the world that is the way the world looks in my picture. And that is always deeply political.

MM
So are you ever afraid of misunderstanding? Of your work being misunderstood?

WT
Well it was understood and of course unavoidably is misunderstood. Also today you cannot be safe from that. And again, sorry this is an endless loop - if in my work I’m trying not to be misunderstood then the intention of not wanting to be misunderstood will be written all over the work.

MM
Ok. I'll try again. Do you have a problem about your work becoming iconic?

WT
That's of course a different from being misunderstood. And sorry, now I don't want to become ridiculous, but of course you cannot choose your work to become iconic, because the moment you want it to be iconic, its desire to be iconic is written all over it. This can only be given to a work. When I was then described in the 90s, 2000s and as a chronicler of a generation and that was something that I pushed away in the 90s, I said - I'm not, this is what I'm doing. Later with hindsight I understood to embrace it, because you cannot choose to want to be the memory of a generation, a maker of something that people connect to, because that connection you cannot manufacture. And so that certain pictures have become iconic is something I can accept and I accept it.

MM
Okay. So you accept it but I remember at the Tate show some very iconic images were very small and they were kind of in the corner. So there is still an attitude towards that image. (I wrongly referred to the Tate show here, having in mind another show I’ve seen - the Serpentine or David Zwirner in New York)

WT
Oh no. The Tate show had as its premise or starting point the year 2003. There were no works from before, except in the documentation room with the printed matter and the books. So it was the idea of defining the now as something that started in 2003 and that we are in a continuous, ongoing mode of misunderstanding since that were scenes of the Iraq war. In every exhibition I challenge notions of importance and the difference in size and the framing and materiality of work is not like a tease, but it's an invitation to trust your own eyes, not to think that the most important picture must be the biggest one and the central perspective one is the most important one. When you came into the Tate show, the first picture you saw was a 3 by 4 meter size print of some weed in a planter, bereft of light. Almost like a picture of nothing. So playing with how we attribute value is something that I like in the exhibition space in particular. It is something that I cannot do in the book format.

MM
I've always felt, when I've seen your work, even in the book format, and it might be my architectural perspective, a very urban experience. I feel like going through a city, some light passing in front of me, entering the park, seeing some rotten vegetables on the ground, looking up to the sky. It's a kind of fusion of emotions and I just wonder whether there is a narrative to the show because each show feels like a story of some sort?

WT
I mean there's certainly not a linear narrative in my work. In an exhibition there are connections between works and they can be on different tiers like formal, like lines or color or narrative or different or similar types of people or the sense of smell or touch that a whole picture evokes. You brought a picture from a show here…

MM
I guess the question before we talk about that image is the notion that you are often told that you're an architect in a way. And it's precisely because of the way you attribute value to images, almost like an architect would attribute value to windows, views. I think Mark Wigley told you that you are an architect in a conversation 10 years ago. Do you feel you are an architect?

WT
I always felt a closeness to architecture and to the meaning of spaces and that everything that is in a space means something and everything that is in the space or actually in the building, that makes the building, is there for a reason, because all are decisions that people have made. I have to come back again to this cause and effect observation, that the building expresses exactly what ideas went into it. Because I am, I guess a sensitive being and I respond to the things around me and I pick up what goes on in a space and what buildings tell me. So, I have had a very aware eye for architecture but never felt that I should do it myself outside of my exhibitions. But as early as the late 90s did I start to have opportunities to build exhibition architecture. For example, in 2006 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago there were two vast empty spaces where I made the entire architecture or at the Moderna Musset in Stockholm in 2012. The exhibition architecture is something that I'm very familiar with and then I have in recent years also made more direct architectural interventions.

MM
One thing is an empty space but then there is another thing where you're given a space and you respond to it, presumably with the way you set your narrative. How much of the exhibition comes from the space that you're given and how much of it is your imposed plan?

WT
It's very much looking at the space but without prejudice and just accepting that I cannot always get the ideal place and not to look down on the place, not see the security exits as my enemy.

MM
I was going to ask whether you see architecture in a confrontational way?

WT
It’s only the minds behind architecture that are confrontational sometimes.

MM
Right?

WT
The minds that are behind the museum architecture.

MM
You mean the architects?

WT
Yes.

(audience laughs)

WT
There's one extreme example in the Kunst Museum in Wolfsburg in Germany. I don't know who was the architect but at the end of each stud wall he put a U-shape metal bracket. Half a meter of metal covering. So every wall has this brace. You look at half a metre of brushed metal surface. I mean what is that. That is just very much the architect wanting to be present. I don't mean the architect should be not present at all. There are amazing buildings where the architect is present, it’s a joy.

MM
Two buildings where this summer you exhibited and I thought maybe we could refer to those two. First one is in Nimes, in France, a building by Norman Foster. We can see the doors are beautifully concealed, the skirting doesn’t quite go across the door but it’s OK. And then it stops again. And then there is of course a fire escape button and swipe cards. And then there is, what is amazing, I can't really see those photographs around the buttons, but then there is Oscar Niemeyer kind of overlooking the regulations. And there are no regulations in Brazil. So anyway – was there a confrontation?

WT
No, it's a curious building. The museum is called Carre d’Art and it's opposite a Roman temple called Maisson Carre. The Carre d’Art from the outside is a total post-modern, early 90s building of white steel covered in this thin plastic that a lot of British buildings of that time were made of. And it has a huge stairwell and the atrium. The steps are made of brushed mat glass and it’s really vertiginous. It follows this ideology of space and transparency. It brings together a library and the entire cities’ cultural activity under one roof and in the top two floors is the modern art museum of this city of Nimes. In these galleries, where I exhibited, the temporary exhibition spaces, when you get in, there you're suddenly in this classical gallery with a marble floor. This whole building is about transparency and white and glass and then you have this stone floor that is not real. All the tiles are lying on a metal grid which means a lot of them are uneven, cracked and broken. It has this grand feel of cool stone gallery and actually that is the dominant feeling. Plus being inaugurated in 1993 it makes you think, probably it was conceptualised in 1988 which was the time of Julian Schnabel and gigantic, gigantic paintings. Art in those days looked very different to even 10 years after. So the lowest ceiling height, I think is 5.5 meters and some walls were even eight meters tall, which is completely unusefull height for a lot, a lot of art. It is supporting this slightly macho, wanting-huge-paintings gesture that this was built for. I was fortunate that my type of installation allows me to respond and take benefit from height. So I went against it and I went with it. In a lot of rooms I hang in a very linear fashion which I'm not so associated with but which I have done from the beginning of my career. I've always hung either from floor to ceiling in different arrangements but also always to counter that hung and linear ways.  

MM
At the same time the exhibition in Johannesburg is happening in a slightly different space?

WT
Yes. And this is the third stop in an exhibition tour of the African continent. In January it was in Kinshasa, in Nairobi in April and then here in Johannesburg Art Gallery in South Africa. Which is one hundred and twenty years old colonial building.

MM
Another British architect interestingly.

WT
Yes, it must be.

MM
Edwin Lutyens. He was a kind of Norman Foster of the early 20th century which is very interesting.  We have both British and in a different kind of way approaching the outside world. So the early 20th century one - colonial power imposes itself in Johannesburg and then here we have a much more capitalism driven power…

WT
…In aid of a municipal, way more egalitarian, European project in Nimes. I mean, it wasn't uncontroversial. Some citizens asked why should we have such a massive museum. But anyway, in Johannesburg that gallery has a particularity that I first had to deal with in 2000 when I was in the exhibition Apocalypse at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, which is something you're not really aware of until you notice it which is called a dado rail. You've got one there. And you've got it here across all the walls.

(a member of audience explains that dado rail is called that way because its purpose is to prevent you from bashing up walls with chairs)

WT
I suspected that, why is it always in galleries? In galleries you don’t have that many chairs. At the Royal Academy I didn’t find it so interesting to work with, whereas in Johannesburg it really does something for the wall, it frames it in a very different way.

MM
You didn't seem to confront it very much, a kind of acceptance?

WT
Well you can't really confront it unless you take a circular saw. At times I hung the pictures underneath the dado rail.

MM
Can we talk about some of your observations on architecture?

WT
Yes. I genuinely do care about architecture, and it has not gone unnoticed on architects. For example, I did a dialogue with Mark Wigley in 2006 and he wrote an essay. I also sat in on a couple of crits in an architecture class and I always felt a desire to be in dialogue with architects. Around that time, in the mid 2000s, for the first time, I wrote down the words “book for architects”. I had this feeling I wanted to share, be like a mirror, not a teacher, not a critic, but just share how I see architecture. How I see it work. That comes from different aspects, like smell or admiration or beauty or study and sometimes criticism, usually not mockery. So my “book for architects” project which never became a book but it was a digital slideshow that lasted forty minutes, which was first shown at the Rem Koolhaas Venice Architecture Biennale, Elements of Architecture in 2014 and which since has become one of the first works in the Metropolitan Museum's newly found architecture department collection.

Just a few thoughts. This is the Maritime Hotel, the view out of the Maritime Hotel in New York. I really like these round windows which strangely feel quite natural. They are of course extremely loud when you first see the building, and it's very unusual, but there's something I find literally natural to live with. It was built as a retirement home for seamen man, maritime workers so they could feel at home.

I have a soft spot for solid wooden handrails. A year ago on a research trip to Coventry where we were visiting the Coventry Cathedral, because I'm doing stage design of the English National Opera production of War Requiem by Benjamin Britten which opens mid-November, and in Coventry station there is this very solid chunky handrail. I always get a sense of generosity from that. There's a value in it that doesn't get less with age, but better.

I have traveled a lot, but since 2008, I went on trips particularly to put myself outside of my comfort zone, outside of the areas that I knew culturally and understood well. And when you do that, you realize that 90 percent of the world's architecture is being made without architects. So, in Tunisia, buildings are made according to Islamic belief, and people don't take credit. They build with the money that they have and when they have more money they continue with the floor above.

In Haiti, the popular way of building is, you just take a plastic barrel and pour concrete in it, let it set and then cut off the barrel and then assemble it again.

One thing that illustrates or gives you an idea how I read architecture and how I'm always aware that everything looks the way it looks for a reason… And so this look (women queuing in front of the toilet) in St Petersburg at the ballet intermission, looks this way for a reason, and the reason being that the architects who built the toilets for men and women gave them exactly the same footprint in floor plan. Same at the Vatican Museum or Versailles. Everywhere where there is crowds, you'll see women stand in line with men walking in and not having to wait. And I just don't understand, why on earth is that not changing.

MM
I have heard that the new Royal Opera House refurbishment has addressed that.

WT
It is just different speeds of going about business.

MM
Have you ever exhibited in a toilet?

WT
Yes. The famous George and the Dragon pub in Shoreditch and it was a gallery that Pablo Leon de la Barra run for years and years, and it was called the White Cubicle.

MM
Was it a unisex toilet?

WT
For that night. It was temporary. So for the opening, it became unisex.

MM
It would be quite nice to curate the work differently for men and women.

WT
Oh yeah… This was unisex.  

And here is the Gatwick Airport some years ago, when you look at this sign, it says “Rest of World passports”, this Eurocentric perspective.

MM
And after that sign there is two kilometers of queuing. It is similar to the toilet situation…

WT
The inequality of queuing…

MM
Yes, the airports. The rest of the world queuing for hours.

WT
Yes. True.

MM
I mean I queue always.

WT
Of course, because you are from Serbia.

MM.
Yes, so I know the feeling even though I'm not a woman.

(audience laughs)

WT
Exhibition architecture is often done in this kind of ramshackle way. (an image of an art installation fixing). This was at the National Art Gallery in Warsaw.

This picture I called “device control” from 2005 and it's from Moscow. (an image of metal tray attached to a façade horizontally catching parts of the crumbling façade that have fallen from above) I just thought it's a very practical approach to architecture. Instead of fixing it, you know that something is going to happen, so you just put a catching device for what you know is going to happen.

In 2001 I called an exhibition “View from Above” because it was the title of a lucid serious of cityscapes that I made from elevated points of view, on commercial planes or towers or buildings. These cities are just organisms that are beyond a master plan, a result of millions and millions of decisions and very soon out of the hand of the architect. Somebody else makes an addition here and there…

I have an acute awareness or an eye for how things join, that interests me, or how they not join. This is a joint I love. It is from the London tube, I think it is Angel. It's so open about it. We are joining these two things. It's not hiding.

I am a bit of a modernist guy. I like English modernism and I also like the way floor curves up. (image of floor to wall curved tiles) I am sure architects know the corners are always a problem.

MM
It's interesting if you take it back to politics, this is a sign of wealth. Being able to produce these special tiles. If you go to any poor country you would never see anything like that.

WT
True.

Yes. You’ll see joints like these in Columbia. (an image of a vernacular joint) As part of these travels, I also went to places that were sort of famous, and kind of - too famous that one shouldn’t be interested in them. Why go to the Eguazu waterfalls. Or you don't really need to see the Sydney Opera House, but when you see it, you know why it's famous because sometimes famous things are good because they're good. But what I never had an idea of is the texture of the Sydney Opera House. You only ever know the shape, but this detailing was amazing. And that type of exposed concrete building has almost entirely disappeared with the exception of the new Charles de Gaulle Airport.

An entire city without advertising - the mayor and municipality of São Paulo decided, ten years ago, that there should be no advertising anymore because it had gotten so out of control.

This picture is sort of symptomatic for a world of architecture we live in. I call this “Cladding”. (images of various glass buildings and fake facades) Any continent, any airport, the pervasiveness of this style is really shocking or impressive. Addis Ababa, Jeddah.

This one is called “Shit buildings going up left, right and center”.

MM
Well this is London.

WT
This is my former studio in the white building, the first floor was my studio from 2001 to 2011. Ten happy years. But then I got out, it was also about time. As you can see everything is now surrounded by this type of cladding.

This can of course amuse you, but it can also be a pain. It's a 50s or 60s building built in East London, in a modern tradition. And then, in some renovation, they put this palace portal at the entrance. And this is in Dublin, so when you give people the choice, they put their country home window or some other inclusion of palatialness, like here in Buenos Aires, or Sao Paulo or St. Petersburg. And one has to wonder what is this desire for palaces and obvious rejection of modernism in architecture by many people? Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat foreign minister last year said - what we're experiencing right now is anti-moderna, that the entire right wing populism is an anti-modern movement. And we feel this is of course slightly ugly, but it has more meaning than just being a variation in taste.

Built-in architectural details, I feel, are increasingly lost. For example, this bathroom built in the 1960s in Germany has this little alcove for the toothbrush. And nowadays, at least in Germany, every bathroom that is being built has the canister for the toilet set in front of the wall rather than built into the wall and then you clad that canister into a shelf, and that is then used for toothbrushes. It's so clear where that comes from, it's just this hollow box that takes up space rather than this care for detail that would set it in. So this is what I think about, since you asked me what sort of images go around in my head…  

MM
Oh, before you fall asleep?

(audience laughs)

WT
Yes.

This one here is a view of my apartment in my flat in London until 2001. Born Estate in Chancery Lane which was built in 1895, a social housing complex. It has, again, these beautiful details, built-in details. It was social housing but there is a generosity, a care for detail that I'm missing in a lot of architecture today which is of course all driven by money. But since I am here talking to future or real-life architects, I would like to encourage this generosity that detail creates. I hope these corners or well made in-boxed details are not just cleaned away. They are spaces where thoughts can catch on. Here, this is Polish modernism in Warsaw, there is a sense of generosity, giving each person the opportunity to look out at other direction.  

And this is the dire reality of 90s, late 90s. London architecture, trying to update the building with just a little wavy piece of metal that starts to peel off after five years.

And a reminder. Just water! I turned 50 this year and I would not have thought of water in buildings when I was 23. But having experienced water coming into places, about six times in the Berlin apartment in 15 years, and of course in the London studio all the time, it's just fascinating. This is a ceiling in the hotel in New York, a concrete building, top floor, and the latex paint sort of became this bubble. Take good care of water in buildings.