Wolfgang Tillmans creates sculpture for ENO debut

Take a look at this bulbous silver stage prop made by the photographer for his production of Britten's War Requiem
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"A great bulbous root, but painted silver." Part of Wolfgang Tillmans' stage design for the new English National Opera production of War Requiem by Benjamin Britten. All installation photographs ©Richard Hubert Smith
"A great bulbous root, but painted silver." Part of Wolfgang Tillmans' stage design for the new English National Opera production of War Requiem by Benjamin Britten. All installation photographs ©Richard Hubert Smith

The English National Opera’s choice of Wolfgang Tillmans as the set designer for its new production of War Requiem was inspired.

This 1962 work by Benjamin Britten, which sets verses by the First World War poet Wilfred Owen to music, was first performed by English and German singers, to consecrate the newly built Coventry Cathedral. Tillmans is a prominent German artist, with a strong interest in Great Britain, and his progressive politics suggest he’s broadly sympathetic to the War Requiem’s message. 

 

Sheep Shadow (2012) by Wolfgang Tillmans in his new stage design for the new English National Opera production of War Requiem by Benjamin Britten
Sheep Shadow (2012) by Wolfgang Tillmans in his new stage design for the new English National Opera production of War Requiem by Benjamin Britten

Yet the ENO might not have known quite how fruitfully Tillmans would push his artistic practice in working on this production, which marks the centenary of the WWI armistice, and runs from now until 7 December in London. 

There are images some followers of Tillmans might be familiar with, such as his 2012 photograph, Sheep Shadow; and others, such pictures of swamps, clouds, flowers and civil unrest, which, even if you can’t readily place them, certainly look like the sort of thing we would readily associate him with. 

 

Pages from Krieg dem Kriege by Ernst Friedrich in Wolfgang Tillmans' stage design for the new English National Opera production of War Requiem by Benjamin Britten
Pages from Krieg dem Kriege by Ernst Friedrich in Wolfgang Tillmans' stage design for the new English National Opera production of War Requiem by Benjamin Britten

However, he has reached beyond photography to include found material, such as pages from the 1924 German anti-war photobook, Krieg dem Kriege by Ernst Friedrich; and he’s also moved into sculpture, building a kind of bulbous, biomorphic bit of set design, which Tillmans likens to “a great bulbous root painted silver to give it the feel of molten magma.” 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans' stage design for the new English National Opera production of War Requiem by Benjamin Britten
Wolfgang Tillmans' stage design for the new English National Opera production of War Requiem by Benjamin Britten

This unusual bit of abstraction is complemented by Tillmans’ chosen images, which are shown across three, eight-metre tall LED screens, and costumes, created by his friend and collaborator, Nasir Mazhar, which Tillmans says do not evoke one particular period, but could have been worn at almost any point over the past one hundred years. “It’s been a steep learning curve and a roller-coaster of experiences in theatreland,” says the artist; it's certainly one we’re glad he signed up for. 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans

To get a bit more understanding of Wolfgang Tillmans' life, work and outlook, order a copy of his Phaidon book here. 


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