“Home and Dry”

There’s a mouse in the Underground. Yes, I know, Dostoyevsky might say. But this small creature isn’t a metaphor for an angst-ridden character; he’s a real mouse and not a man. Although I can’t help wonder if his existence, living in the filth of the tracks, is any less marginalized, is any kinder. A mouse after all likes to keep clean. Nevertheless he and his brothers appear to be well fed, thanks to the slobs who, it seems, find it easier to toss their leftover English muffins and candy bar wrappers into the iron gully than into a trash bin. The mice scurry to and fro, over and under the rails, among the litter. And in the background you can hear the dull rumble of a train, and the Pet Shop Boys singing. This is Wolfgang Tillmans’s video for the band’s single “Home and Dry” that he made in 2001.

The year before, the contemporary German artist Tillmans—known for the deeply personal style he brought to his images and for taping his pictures frameless to the walls of museums and galleries—was the first photographer and the first non-Brit to win the prestigious Turner Prize, which catapulted him to art-world fame. Living in London and New York in the nineties he had already made a name for himself documenting, as one critic succinctly put it: “London’s street culture, the rise of Gay Pride, the nightlife of the clubbing generation.”[1] So it was surely a meeting of like-minded artists when the synth-pop duo Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe came along and tapped the artist to make the video for the lead song of their new album Release.

Tillmans shot the video—another first for him—with a camcorder, stationing himself in London’s tube station at Tottenham Court Road, watching the mice. Completely antithetical to the music industry’s standard of flashy, big budgeted productions, the video caught a lot of flak. Quickly re-edited with a commercial eye, the footage now contained a few seconds of Tennant and Lowe performing. But the music industry wasn’t shy about letting the Pet Shop Boys know that they still weren’t keen about the mice; they basically said the band had shot themselves in the foot, that “Home and Dry” would have received more play if the video hadn’t been “unshowable”; even their fans thought it was “strange.” Later when asked to explain the video, Tennant said, “It doesn’t need explaining. It is what it is.”[2] And Lowe said, “We just wanted to make a video that was completely different—dead simple, it’s art.”[3]

As for Tillmans, he noted, “The phenomenon of the metro mouse is fascinating to me… Most passengers are either too tired or absorbed to notice the endearing spectacle that takes place right under their eyes.”[4]

.


[1] Laura Cumming, “Wolfgang Tillmans,” The [London] Observer, June 26, 2010.

[2] Interviews-Attitudes, “Literally,” Absolutely Pet Shop Boys, May 2002.

[3] “Tillmans makes promo debut,” Creative Review, February 1, 2002.

[4] Ibid.

Additional sources: Wolfgang Tillmans website; Martin Herbert, “Wolfgang Tillmans: Tate Britain,” Artforum, October 2003; Pet Shop Boys website; Lynsey Hanley and Olivia Shean, “Daydream Believers,” New Statesman, October 30, 2006

(Image: Still from the video, directed by Wolfgang Tillmans, 2001, released March 2002, for non-commercial use only.)


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