The constructed worlds of Thomas Demand

Thomas DEMAND
German 1964–
Badezimmer / Bathroom 1997
C-Print / Perspex
160.0 × 122.0 cm
Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery, Sprüth Magers Berlin London, Esther Schipper, Berlin, Matthew Marks Gallery
© Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / VISCOPY, Sydney

When you look at the work of Thomas Demand, at some point you realise that what you are looking at cannot be real. As this becomes apparent you understand that you are looking at a paper simulation of the world.

Demand’s early studies, in the 1980s and early 90s, were in sculpture and he built his constructions out of paper and cardboard. At this time, photography was simply the tool the artist used to document his sculptural work. Around 1993, however, an important shift occurred in Demand’s practice. His meticulously constructed objects were no longer the final works. The photographs that had previously served as an efficient means of recording his ephemeral sculptures instead became Demand’s prime interest. From this point on his models existed, not to be seen as three-dimensional sculptures but, to be photographed in two-dimensions.

The act of building his sculptural subjects  is a bit like the architectural process and involves drawings, plans, engineering, even quantity surveying. A finished work may contain hundreds of thousands of hand-cut and assembled paper elements. Another of the more extraordinary things about his constructions is their scale. Demand extrapolates and estimates dimensions of the elements in his source images and then reconstructs them at life-size. The environs Demand builds have an amazing fidelity.

In the process of making his photographs, Demand literally inhabits the structures he builds, walking in and around them. He does so not only to find the right position to photograph from, but also to establish a relationship with a place. Demand describes this act as unsettling, saying, ‘When I walk around them I feel a strange sense of destabilisation. You transpose yourself to a time and place in which you could never be’. The scale of his models enables him to physically relate to them as if to the original object or scene – a model bath is big enough to sit in and a forest clearing is large enough to enter and walk through. Demand’s working process therefore enables him to have physical encounters with things, places and times that exist elsewhere or in the past.

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