1x1 ON WOLFGANG TILLMANS: TO LOOK WITHOUT FEAR
Munuwata sky, 2011
A wanderer stands still
Munuwata sky is a portrait of a Papua New Guinea landscape at night that glows from a distance. A closer view of its top two-thirds reveals hundreds of stars puncturing a sky, which meets the border of a calm gray sea. The sea’s murky seam against the sky is interrupted by a black island of dark treetops that point upward. A wispy cloud, suspended above the island, is like painted brushstrokes across the intensity of the universe. The dot of a planet radiates from the left of center of the composition, a pupil to the iris the sky’s sienna light makes of the photograph, looking back at the world below and at Tillmans’s lens.
In Munuwata sky, Tillmans points his lens to the night sky and looks outward from this remote place. There is blur in this photograph, but there is also precision: in its orientation as a portrait, it feels less about a contemplation on vastness than about the poetics of a singular moment and communion.
On the universe, Tillmans has said that he “always felt held in-between the infinite smallness of subatomic space and the infinite largeness of the cosmos.”1 There is a sense of being held in this photograph, of the tenderness of finding home in the familiar set pieces of an unknown place. An island is suspended between water and air. A wanderer stands still in this photograph, taking stock of where they’ve traveled to.
Despite its size, the borders of the image’s components emerge slowly and take work to see. The photograph recalls the eye and mind’s tendencies towards composition: the urge to differentiate and create borders to make out an image and to make sense of the world. Each border in this photograph feels painted, touched, created, and strived for; their precarity paves the way for a slowness and a process of looking and re-looking.
The night sky presents, to a wanderer, a form of assuredness as well as a solidarity with other people across times and experiences. Munuwata sky maps those connections: measuring beauty in the constellations and compositions that emerge after the inevitable descent of the sun.
- Aimee Lin with Wolfgang Tillmans, ‘Seeing in a High-Definition World’, in Wolfgang Tillmans: A Reader, ed. Roxana Marcoci and Phil Taylor, 2022.