First fragment. Thomas Demand in collaboration with architects Caruso St John, Nagelhaus

Nagelhaus is a joint project by Thomas Demand and the British-Swiss practice Caruso St John Architects (founded by Adam Caruso and Peter St John), with whom Demand collaborated on his now canonical exhibitions at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin and the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris. The story behind the appearance of Nagelhaus developed in several stages. The object won a competition for a major public art commission in Zurich. It was supposed to be located in an abandoned part of town that at the time was being intensively re-developed, as a kind of phantom archaeological fragment. The house references so-called “nail houses,” private buildings whose owners refuse to leave when construction of new urban infrastructure begins around them. Such houses stand in sharp contrast to the massive construction sites that surround them.

The project by Demand and Caruso St John refers to the story of the Yang family in Chongqing, China. For three years they lived in their house while a 10-meter foundation pit was dug around it. Eventually, the owners came to an agreement with the authorities. They were well compensated financially, and the building was demolished.

Demand and Caruso St John’s project envisioned their home as being made of smooth wooden panels to avoid any sense of “handmadeness.” The milled surface is based on a 3D scan of a weathered cardboard box found on a street in Zurich. It was important to them that the house would be an abstractly general image of the original, with modified proportions and materials. The source of the image was a photograph of a “nail house” found on the Internet.

The project was approved by the authorities and submitted to a general referendum, resulting (not without interference from third-party interests and the usual political arguments) in an objection due to the size of the budget of one particular part: the cost of the disabled toilet. Accordingly, the original Nagelhaus was first displayed at the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale. Today it occupies the Atrium at Garage.

According to Demand, the model has its own existence and materiality, transgressing our usual reality. It is not about representing the future. We have somehow, imperceptibly, found ourselves in a world of models that determine many things, from the weather forecast to communications, politics, and economics. A model that can reduce all nuances to structurally simple elements is more suited to describing our everyday reality, in which the “algorithmizing” of digital and real behavior, the analysis of “particulars” in the form of big data for the production of various models in science and daily communication, become a mode of consciousness. In this sense, Demand’s modeling confronts the viewer with an image of contemporaneity, the variability of which seems to depend on the arsenal of tools available to the “modeler.” The artist provides us with a wide spectrum of possibilities, as can be seen in the exhibition Mirror Without Memory, on view in the Central and West Galleries.