Wolfgang Tillmans on the Inner City Garden

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Wolfgang Tillmans, Serpentine Gallery Garden Marathon 2011
Wolfgang Tillmans, Serpentine Gallery Garden Marathon 2011Photography Polly Brannan © Serpentine Gallery

Of all the Turner prize-winning artists to find discoursing on gardens, it should be no surprise to find Wolfgang Tillmans stepping forward. A photographer who ranges across, and often beyond, the genre...

"I never planned to have a garden, but it came to me in 1998 when I moved to a flat in Gray’s End Road in Clerkenwell, a flat that had a little ledge outside the top window, where I found a window box that was completely overgrown with weed. That summer I was in Italy, and I collected some acorns from a friend’s garden, and I pressed them into the weeds, and then the next year I had these little tree saplings. And over the course of three years I photographed this window box, which became a sort of minature garden, and even though it was tiny, it felt like a sort of enclosed world. And then I moved and I took the window box with me, and I moved to an ex-council flat which had one of these balconies where you access the flat from an outdoor walkway and I began to collect more plants. And then I bought an apple tree. In the first year I had the tree, children were stealing all the apples, so on the last one I put a post-it note saying ‘please leave this one’. I began to photograph it – not really as a project, but it was just an intuitive reaction because every day I walked past this developing growth, and these ripening apples. That is typical for how I work, that things often only afterwards turn out to be serious, and I don’t ever plan them as that, but later that I realise that there is now a solid group of several works together."

Of all the Turner prize-winning artists to be found discoursing on gardens, to see Wolfgang Tillmans alighting the stage should really be no surprise. A photographer who ranges across, and often beyond, his genre, he has captured iconic portraits, chronicled the fantastical reality of the party scene in pre- and post-Wall Berlin, worked extensively in the fashion industry, and recently published a compilation of his beautiful and somewhat unnerving Abstract Pictures. Last weekend, at the sixth Serpentine Gallery Garden Marathon, in a talk entitled Ursuppe and Other Garden Pictures, Tillmans discussed a range of images that track a burgeoning fascination with plantlife, which began in a overgrown box on a window sill and is now expressed in a plot of urban land in Berlin, which he has left fallow and returns to regularly to record the untrammeled changes of the nature that grows there.

Text by Tish Wrigley

Wolfgang Tillmans: Abstract Pictures is out now, published by Hatje Cantz.

Suggested Reading: The Hunger celebrated the world of al fresco garden dining in their piece on the restaurant at Lucknam Park here.