Thomas Demand

Thomas Demand was born in 1964 in Munich. He enrolled at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in 1987 and continued his studies under Fritz Schwegler at the Art Academy Düsseldorf. Studies abroad led him in 1992 to the Cité des Arts, Paris, and in 1993 to Goldsmiths College, London. In 1995 he worked at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam.

Demand’s photographs and films thematize the power of imagination and illusion, the relation between picture and reality. If in reference to photography this relation is described as indexical, it has also come to be increasingly questioned in the age of digital manipulation of the picture. Demand’s pictures, seemingly taken at identifiable places, actually refer to the image of these places as one that has been processed and disseminated by the media. While perhaps inconspicuous, those places are not at all unknown, which attests to the very impact of their circulation. Demand concentrates on specific sites that acquired their connotations through special events. One example is Badezimmer / Bathroom (1997), a room that had been photographed in connection with the death of German politician Uwe Barschel, the photographs having circulated widely in the media. Another example is Tunnel (1999), relating to the Paris site where the fatal accident of Lady Di and Dodi Al-Fayed took place. Demand thematized this with his first 35-mm film.

Yet Demand’s photographs and films are not limited to the choice of sites whose presence relies on powerful media dissemination. Instead, the history of his photographs reveals a much more fundamental focus on the referentiality and the impact of the picture, a focus that reaches far beyond the medium of photography: The photographs and films are actually based on materials and installations that reproduce the object of the photograph which only seems to have been taken on site. Constructed with simple means, out of paper and cardboard, yet still decidedly artificial because of the subtle lighting, the photographed models of sites only simulate a presence at those other, spectacular sites. The model that is based on the pictures in the media then becomes the point of origin for a photograph that not only appears to have been taken at the real place, but that also repeats the earlier perspective. The fake is manifold: The place represented in the photograph, the temporal context recreated through the model, as well as the seeming presence of the photographer at the specific site during the specific time, are revealed as being simulated. The artificial character of the new picture that emerges is an intended effect of the arrangement of the model as well as the photographed rendering. Demand’s photographs and films are the result of successive pictorial developments anchored in the installation. They basically owe their impact to those connotations of reality that are already implied in the suggestive effect of the press photos. Demand who does not consider himself a photographer, takes those connotations as starting point and measure for his reconstructive as well as deconstructive photographs and films.

Through the simultaneity of presence and absence, Demand’s photographs develop virtual spaces through which the viewer learns more about the basic potential of »the picture’ than about its spectacular object. In the absence of a picture from the media that might serve as reference, such photographs that clearly show the constructed character of the simulation – for example through the recognizable reproduction of real objects or public spaces (Sprungturm / Diving Platform, 1994;Archiv, 1995) – may be understood as foundational concepts of ›the picture’ in a general sense.

In the more recent photographs, done as series or cycles, Demand goes beyond the above approaches. While still focusing on pictures in the media and press photos, the pictorial interest visibly shifts from the publicly mediated site to events: With Zyklus Klause I.-V. from 2005/2006, Demand refers to the supposed child abuse at the ‹Saarbrücker Tosa-Klause« in 1992. The case had been taken up by the press and Demand traces it in his photographically documented reenactments. In the sequence of the numbered pictures and beyond the reference to sites of his earlier work, Demand develops narrative coherence. From the sequence of photographs presumably taken at the site of the crime – interior and exterior shots or shots of single, apparently irrelevant objects – the impression is evoked that the event can be reconstructed. The power of the viewer’s imagination is being stimulated. Strategies well-tried in the medium of the feature film, e. g. Hitchcock-like shots, add to this. They support the imaginary part of Demand’s picture sequences, adding connotations of violence.

Demand’s latest photo series Embassy (2007), done, like his earlier work, as C-prints in Diasec, moves away from the site-related concepts of the 1990s. Still, with the picture – in this case the embassy of Niger in Rome – a specific place and its media-induced presence and investment with meaning again becomes Demand’s starting point: The building serves as the supposed place where documents on Iraqi nuclear armament were kept, documents that served to justify U.S.-President George W. Bush’s war against Iraq. Embassy I.-V. taps this merely imaginary connection in a sequence that captures the interior and exterior space of the building. Demand’s models of the interior are based on photographs that were secretly taken in the embassy and again evoke the seeming presence of the artist at the site. Yet with Demand the events retain the notion of something that happened presumably or allegedly. The question of authenticity shifts to a picture that was to be doubted even before Demand’s photographic project. With the film loop based on the photo series Embassy, which seems to show shots taken by a monitoring camera, and with the dummy camera in the exhibition room (Hamburger Kunsthalle, Galerie der Gegenwart, 2008), Demand also includes the audience into the exhibition context. The film again provides the impression of picture-based control and surveillance and creates a connection to the topic of the photo series.

In 2005 Demand’s works were shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 2006 they were presented at the Serpentine Gallery in London, and in 2008 the artist presented his Embassy (2007) series at the Galerie der Gegenwart of the Kunsthalle Hamburg.

Thomas Demand lives and works in Berlin and London.

Selected Literature

Obrist, H.-U.: Thomas Demand, Köln 2007

Klause, Thomas Demand: Ausst.-Kat. MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst hg. v. A. Bee, Köln 2006

Thomas Demand: Ausst.-Kat. Serpentine Gallery, München 2006

Thomas Demand: Ausst.-Kat. Museum of Modern Art, New York 2005

Thomas Demand: Phototrophy, München 2004

Thomas Demand: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau München, hg. v. H. Friedel, München 2002

Thomas Demand, Report: Ausst.-Kat. Sprengel-Museum, Hannover, 2001

Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014

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