The artistic practice of Thomas Demand centers around the image as such, its nature, methods of creation/construction, and the mechanics of the viewer’s perception. When we look at Demand’s photographs, what do we actually see? How much do the photographed paper-and-cardboard models relate to sensory or historical reality? Do we see some kind of “thought forms,” mental constructs or living situations when we look at shards of porcelain in a museum, hotel rooms, a fairground ride frozen at the highest point, a landing gate or an empty Bonn parliament? To what extent is an event that actually took place revealed to us, or how it appears in our memory while going through various stages of “filtering” and construction under the influence of waves of personal forgetfulness and the forming of general conventions regarding past events?
Demand’s works, which are all photographed paper models, often created from photographs found in the press or on the Internet, live in a constant flicker between the event and its image, a flicker that noticeably corrects our perception of time. There are never people or visible action in his shots, and it is often problematic for us to correlate a picture with an event, a point on the timeline. Placed next to each other, the objects seem to launch their own autonomous narrative, making us automatically ask ourselves why this particular bathroom is in the picture when it looks like any other three-star-hotel bathroom. What is so special about it, what happened here and when? What is wrong with the cherry blossoms in the backyard of a completely ordinary (apparently American) house? Where should we look for relief from anxiety and vague recognition? United by this search we wander through the exhibition, trying to construct the missing pieces of reality.
Demand’s works fundamentally do not line up into a sequential narrative; they remain single, fragmented, splintered. French philosopher Jacques Rancière accurately describes them as “mirrors” reflecting emptiness. Fragments can only withstand “elective affinity,” referencing not only the title of Goethe’s novel but also the eighteenth-century chemical term that denotes the ability of chemicals to combine with other substances or their compounds, choosing some over others. Informed by the principle of “elective affinity,” Demand’s works also live within the exhibition as essentially autonomous units that assemble into formal or substantive syncopations.
The various combinations of the exhibition become part of a lengthy (and intuitive on the part of the artist) process of seeking, selecting, constructing/cutting and photographing objects, imparting a specific sense of temporariness that merges with other “temporarinesses”: our unreliable memory, the washing out of pictures from the first pages of search engines and their immersion into an endless digital archive of images “on demand.”
We’ll now go to the Skylight Gallery.