Solidarity: Wolfgang Tillmans on His Poster Project to Support the Arts

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Heji Shin, Basic Precinct, 2018
Heji Shin, Basic Precinct, 2018Courtesy of 2020Solidarity

Tillmans has launched 2020Solidarity, a project aimed at helping cultural venues, projects, spaces and publications that are existentially threatened by the coronavirus pandemic

This article is published as part of our #CultureIsNotCancelled campaign:

The coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating impact on the arts. A recent survey of over 2,000 creative organisations and freelancers conducted by the Creative Industries Federation (CIF) – the membership body that represents the UK’s creative industries – revealed that just one in seven creative organisations believe they can last until the end of April on existing financial reserves, while only half think they can last beyond June. “With theatres, venues, museums and galleries closing, film shoots being postponed and festivals being cancelled,” the report reads, “more than half of creative organisations and individuals have already seen a 100 per cent drop in income”. And that’s just in the UK.

It’s this reality – that cultural venues, projects, spaces and publications around the world are being existentially threatened by the coronavirus pandemic – that inspired artist and photographer Wolfgang Tillmans to launch his project 2020Solidarity. Bringing together over 40 international artists – from Marlene Dumas and Mark Leckey to Peter Berlin and Heji Shin (lead image), and of course Tillmans himself – each has designed a poster, which is being offered on different crowdfunding sites as a reward for a donation.

Dumas’ poster, for example – a portrait of James Baldwin taken from the artist’s 2014 series Great Men, which comprises 16 portraits of men who were persecuted because they were suspected of being gay – is currently being offered on sites to support Siegessäule (Berlin)Visual AIDS (New York City)Hospital Rooms (London)Art Technician Emergency Fund (UK) and Primary Information (Brooklyn).

Here, speaking in his own words, Tillmans tells us more about 2020Solidarity; why he launched the project, what his hopes for it are, and the story behind his own contribution.

“I came up with the idea three weeks ago, starting from a realisation that I wanted to help cultural spaces that are affected by the current crisis as much as I can. I offered a limited-edition print to the Berlin lesbian and gay free magazine Siegessäule and while doing this realised that there are many different causes that could use editions or prints. So I came up with the idea of making unlimited posters, since a small edition would mean a higher price which is really cutting it off for many, many people. I then thought why not ask fellow artists from different countries to join in one project and organise many different posters and offer them to many different recipients. In a way this works like brokering, connecting causes with artists’ posters that not every single cause would have the access to. The price point of 50 euros, dollars or pounds is obviously not cheap. It’s obviously not an ‘art for all’; it’s action, it is about raising a substantial amount of money for places that are existentially threatened.

“I think there are many places that don’t get help or won’t get bailed out because they are informal places in culture and nightlife, where the lack of an audience is causing an existential threat. I feel an urgency to do something for them, so that they won’t have to close down forever. For me, places of social life are also places of cultural life and it would be terrible if we lost half the places that we love going to. But we also want to support initiatives that are helping people in need locally within their communities, or that are raising funds for hospitals or health organisations.

“We are receiving many requests from various organisations that want to enlist the posters as donations. They all have different needs and capabilities. For example, the Arts Technician Emergency Fund or Migrate Art in the UK are successfully using the posters, in Poland there is Pogłos, an alternative club in Warsaw, or Artists Space in New York, clubs in Berlin such as ACUD or Griessmühle, or we are talking to the Artist Relief Fund in Bulgaria. It is just a start and hopefully it will get picked up by many places. We are now suggesting for smaller spaces or initiatives in the same region or city to come together in one crowdfunding effort, as it sometimes seems difficult for smaller organisations to set up a crowdfunding campaign alone.

“[My] photo was taken on March 1, when I had come back from a month-long trip around the world. I was working in New York and in Los Angeles, and travelled from Los Angeles to Taiwan, to the city of Kaohsiung where I was working on the re-staging of the stage set for the English National Opera’s War Requiem by Benjamin Britten. I then came back to Berlin and saw this light in my studio kitchen and these vases which I had enjoyed looking at for a while. There was this particular light hitting behind the image in the photograph and the shelf that was creating this box. Maybe I saw this as a stage set because for a week before I was always looking at a stage. The second part of the title still life (Bühnenbild) means stage set in German, literally ‘stage picture’. It is the last picture we enlarged in a big scale in the studio before the studio shut down on March 13, and so it sort feels personal. The story isn’t really relevant, however on the other hand, the moment, the now, resonates in it.”

Explore the 2020Solidarity project (and buy a poster!) here.