BY Stuart Morgan in Reviews | 08 JUN 95
Featured in
Issue 23

Thomas Demand

BY Stuart Morgan in Reviews | 08 JUN 95

Thomas Demand's earlier work was based on the proposition that reality could be recreated as a model. By staging or photographing tableaux made of paper, he was not only playing God but also setting out the terms and conventions that would govern his later work, in which 'real' paper models of objects would be offset by photographs of paper models. To make matters more confusing, the models and 'the real thing' would play games with each other. For example, he included his own cardboard versions of (cardboard) boxes for carrying flowers. In other words, items made as imitations but nevertheless bound to be extremely near the original in everything but finish (for Demand's finish can be perfection itself and an improvement on reality).

The contrast between two and three dimensions was not as striking as the metaphoric differences between the elements: a box for carrying things which could be regarded as full or empty, as opposed to a building - a box for which empty and full do not give separate impressions. With both, it dawned only gradually that what was beheld was not real in any settled or meaningful way. In other words, the flower box was not a flower box and the factory in the picture was not a factory at all. The resulting effect of alienation seemed less important than the decision to allow both to exist in a single space. Whereas the impact of previous work had depended on the final move - photographing it - these pieces had an air of philosophical debate, yet were by no means so pared down that metaphor (never a help to logic) could not enter.

In the work which posed as a small piece of office furniture, for example, a sense of tension was produced by the effect - but only an effect - of rolled paper and the anticipated dive, or crash, from the diving boards in the accompanying photograph. Here problems arose - if metaphor can be called a problem - for the two photographic elements in his recent work are replete with metaphor. The pun on his own name in the logo of the factory and the weight put behind the ideal of ambition in the diving-board photograph are not modified or qualified by the fact that these are models. Having registered their flimsy existence, the viewer can do nothing else but take this on board for ever. In old-time Conceptualist art, the play between 'real' and 'photographed' would have been given more weight by the viewer and the mere fact of pointing to it would have been sufficient to begin a debate, albeit a token one, about the status of the elements as they existed in the world. Now the 'world' has been taken away or, rather, re-made so cunningly that an alternative exists. It has turned into what Shakespeare calls a 'stage-play world' and that permits us, if we wish, to invest in it emotionally. It also allows us, again only if we wish, to withdraw that investment at any point in the negotiation.

The work long ago began inventing worlds or referring to such invented worlds. In other words, what Heidegger called 'worlding' is turning into the theme or talking-point of Demand's work. 'Talking-point', because without its being didactic - it is far from that - the work is self-absorbed, and the viewer, feeling left out, yearns to be part of the proceedings. What is on show seems increasingly to be a set of gestures: gestures of self-sufficiency offset by obvious evidence against this, or gestures of security or danger, not ratifying our ideals in life but casting doubt on them simply by their existence. A workplace, a craftsman-like act, a piece of sportsmanship... The earnestness with which we pursue our lives despite grave misgivings about the basis of the entire activity; the pride in perfection and the simultaneous horror of perfection; the ways in which we court security and danger; the entire meaning of work itself are only some of the subjects approached in Demand's thinking and making. Indeed, in the end, perhaps 'thinking and making' and the rifts between them are what the work is all about.