Concorde Grid is a series of fifty-six colour photographs of equal dimensions arranged in a grid four rows high and fourteen columns wide. The series was created in an edition of ten plus one artist’s proof. Tate’s copy is number four. The photographs were taken as part of a commission for the Chisenhale Gallery, London on the occasion of I Didn’t Inhale, Tillmans’ solo exhibition there in 1997. An artist’s book consisting of sixty-two Concorde images was produced to accompany the exhibition. It was published by Walther König, Cologne. Fifty-four of the images in the photographic edition are reproduced in the book. The photographs were taken at a number of sites in and around London, including close to the perimeter fence at Heathrow airport. Several photographs of the airplane landing and taking off from the airport were taken looking through the security fence, which is included in the image as a blurred outline. In another sequence, the jet is viewed taking off dramatically over an expanse of brilliant green grass, suggesting that the artist may have pushed his camera lens between the gaps in the fence so as not to include it in the frame. Further photographs were taken from such vantage points as suburban railway tracks, roads close to the airport, a yard containing parked trucks and an open common. The airplane is depicted in varying scales viewed from a wide variety of angles. At times it resembles a bird, at others (when it flies directly above the camera at close range) an air-borne sting-ray. In several images it is barely visible in the haze of distance and the afterburn of its engines. Tillmans’ project has the flavour of a birdwatcher’s obsessive tracking and recording. He has written:
Concorde is perhaps the last example of a techno-utopian invention from the sixties still to be operating and fully functioning today. Its futuristic shape, speed and ear-numbing thunder grabs people’s imagination today as much as it did when it first took off in 1969. It’s an environmental nightmare conceived in 1962 when technology and progress was the answer to everything and the sky was no longer a limit ... For the chosen few, flying Concorde is apparently a glamorous but cramped and slightly boring routine whilst to watch it in the air, landing or taking-off is a strange and free spectacle, a super modern anachronism and an image of the desire to overcome time and distance through technology.
(Quoted on the inner sleeve of Concorde.)
Tillmans came to England from Germany in 1990 to study at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design. He had already begun taking and exhibiting the kind of photographs for which he has become known – colour images with a snapshot aesthetic apparently recording ordinary moments in his and his friends’ lives. Inspired by the rave culture of the late 1980s in which he was an enthusiastic participant, he took a camera to a Hamburg nightclub and sent the resulting photographs to i-D magazine, who printed a selection in May 1989. Throughout the early 1990s, i-D magazine commissioned spreads from Tillmans, whose pictures of young people and the clubbing scene quickly extended to subversive fashion shoots. With the collaboration of his subjects he began setting up scenarios which reflected his personal lifestyle and fantasies. His styles encompass portraiture, documentary, still-life, landscape and more recently, a unique form of abstraction created by manipulating light on photographic paper. He has said of his photographs that ‘they are a representation of an unprivileged gaze or view ... In photography I like to assume exactly the unprivileged position, the position that everybody can take, that chooses to sit at an airplane window or chooses to climb a tower.’ (Quoted in Wolfgang Tillmans, p.136.) In accordance with this, Tillmans exhibits his work in installations combining photographs, ink-jet prints and pages taken from magazines arranged in rows and grids. Typically his images are taped or pinned directly to the wall, emphasising their physical qualities. The fifty-six glossy colour prints which make up Concorde Grid are, characteristically, exhibited taped to the wall. However, the artist has agreed that Tate’s copy may be mounted in abutting Perspex boxes in order to protect it.
Wolfgang Tillmans, Concorde, Cologne 1997
Neville Wakefield, ‘Concorde’, Parkett, No.53, 1998, pp.104-6, reproduced p.106 and p.104 in colour (detail)
Peter Halley, Midori Matsui, Jan Verwoert, Wolfgang Tillmans, London 2002, pp.46, 81 and 90-101, reproduced pp.96-7 in colour and pp.90, 92-4 and 100 (detail)