11
Mar
13

Exhibition: ‘Thomas Demand’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 30th November 2012 – 17th March 2013

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Sitting here in my non-airconditioned flat trying to survive Melbourne’s autumn heatwave is no fun; my mind has turned to mush. So instead of trying to write an in depth review of this exhibition I shall just make some salient comments, for fear my sweat would literally buckle Demand’s meticulously constructed paper models before he could photograph them.

Demand is firstly a sculpture, constructing studio-sized models of photographs that reference “source material in the archive that already has some fateful resonance,” (Robert Nelson, The Age, 12th December 2012) such as the control room of the Fukushima nuclear reactor, the Geneva hotel bath tub where the German politician Uwe Barschel found a brutal death – personally my mind went to David E. Scherman’s photograph of Lee Miller in Hitler’s bathtub (see below); scenes of nature such as Clearing (2003, below) or Grotto (2006, below) that are hyperreal simulacra of natural phenomena; and modular environments and objects, such as Copyshop (1999), Space Simulator (2003) and Bullion (2003, all below) that strip away the relational intimacy between man and environment by the removal of all labelling and tactility of surface. Demand then photographs his denuded “models” before destroying them, the photograph then becoming the soul evidence of their intrinsic existence (much like the documentary evidence of photographs of Land Art). Demand’s visualisation of the environment is triple coded (photograph, model, photograph), a hybrid tri-articulation that produces new identities that release energies of multiplicity, irony and destabilisation.

Robert Nelson observes in The Age that Demand’s world is paper thin and because the eye detects the forgery, “the famous icon of unthinkable fortune [Bullion] – which might have played a part in some famous heist or the security of a national economy – is also a lie, a tinsel falsehood of no substance… All of Demand’s pictures have an empty or hollow character, which defies the earnest weight of their associations.” Dan Rule insightfully notes that, “By removing the image’s reference or index, only to so painstakingly recast it, he [Demand] begs us to look and look again. These resolutely “unreal” images demand that we consider reality with much greater care.” (Dan Rule, The Age, 19th January 2013). Christopher Allen in The Weekend Australian (2nd March, 2013) states that Demand’s huge final prints, hidden under a layer of Perspex, “adds another level of truth and illusion that preoccupies Demand as it must any serious photographer today. In this case, the photographs can claim to be, for what this is worth, absolutely and literally true in their recording of their subject; it is only the subject itself that is entirely illusory and fabricated.”

Interesting comments all. Demand’s recasting of the relationship between image and referent (image and the object being photographed) is critical to his practice, but I am unsure that all photographers have to be preoccupied with the relationship between truth and illusion as Allen states. As my recent review of the exhibition Confounding: Contemporary Photography noted not all photographs have to confound the relationship between truth and illusion in order to be art. “Collectively, it is the ideas contained within the images in this exhibition that unsettle the relationship between the photograph and the world in the mind of the viewer, not their confounding.” As in the Jeff Wall Photographs exhibition, there is not much emotion in any of these images and perhaps this is an outcome of the long pre-photographic production process.

Demand’s recordings, re-orderings of a constructed reality are fabrications of the highest calibre, amazing to witness at first hand (is that really a model, how does he do that with paper and lighting?!), and yet one is left with a feeling that the work needed something more to go beyond this illusion, some layering that takes the viewer beyond the surface of the image, beyond the understanding of image / model / reality. I look at the photographs, I understand the skill, the imbrication of the process – I think that is the word I want, meaning the covering with a design in which one element covers a part of another – the looking again at a fabricated (our!) reality but the photographs still leave me a little cold of heart, of empty and hollow character. Perhaps that is the point, however it doesn’t make me want to look at the photographs over weeks, months and years and let them reveal themselves to me. Like the paper on which they are printed they are paper thin, one model wonders.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Thomas Demand German 1964- 'Copyshop' 1999

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Thomas Demand German 1964-
Copyshop
1999
C-Print / Perspex
183.5 × 300.0 cm
Collection of John Kaldor, Sydney
Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery, Sprüth Magers Berlin London, Esther Schipper, Berlin, Matthew Marks Gallery
© Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / VISCOPY, Sydney

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Thomas Demand German 1964- 'Kontrollraum / Control Room' 2011

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Thomas Demand German 1964-
Kontrollraum / Control Room
2011
C-Print / Perspex
200.0 × 300.0 cm
Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery, Sprüth Magers Berlin London, Esther Schipper, Berlin, Matthew Marks Gallery
© Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / VISCOPY, Sydney

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Thomas Demand German 1964- 'Labor / Laboratory' 2000

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Thomas Demand German 1964-
Labor / Laboratory
2000
C-Print / Perspex
180.0 × 268.0 cm
Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery, Sprüth Magers Berlin London, Esther Schipper, Berlin, Matthew Marks Gallery
© Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / VISCOPY, Sydney

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Thomas Demand German 1964- 'Space Simulator' 2003

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Thomas Demand German 1964-
Space Simulator
2003
C-Print / Perspex
300.0 × 429.4 cm
Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery, Sprüth Magers Berlin London, Esther Schipper, Berlin, Matthew Marks Gallery
© Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / VISCOPY, Sydney

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Thomas Demand German 1964- 'Regen / Rain' (still) 2008

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Thomas Demand German 1964-
Regen / Rain (still)
2008
35 mm colour film, sound, 4 min, looped
Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery, Sprüth Magers Berlin London, Esther Schipper, Berlin, Matthew Marks Gallery
© Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / VISCOPY, Sydney

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Thomas Demand German 1964- 'Lichtung / Clearing' 2003

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Thomas Demand German 1964-
Lichtung / Clearing
2003
C-Print / Perspex
192.0 × 495.0 cm
Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery, Sprüth Magers Berlin London, Esther Schipper, Berlin, Matthew Marks Gallery
© Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / VISCOPY, Sydney

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Thomas Demand German 1964- 'Grotte / Grotto' (detail) 2006

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Thomas Demand German 1964-
Grotte / Grotto (detail)
2006
C-Print / Perspex
Photograph: Marcus Bunyan

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Thomas Demand German 1964- 'Bullion' 2003

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Thomas Demand German 1964-
Bullion
2003
C-Print / Perspex
42.0 × 60.0 cm
Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery, Sprüth Magers Berlin London, Esther Schipper, Berlin, Matthew Marks Gallery
© Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / VISCOPY, Sydney

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David E. Scherman. 'Lee Miller in Hitler's bath, Hitler's apartment, Munich, Germany 1945' 1945

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David E. Scherman
Lee Miller in Hitler’s bath, Hitler’s apartment, Munich, Germany 1945
1945
From Lee Miller: A Life by Carolyn Burke
© Lee Miller Archives

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Thomas Demand German 1964- 'Badezimmer / Bathroom' 1997

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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

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Thomas Demand German 1964- 'Tribute' 2011

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Thomas Demand German 1964-
Tribute
2011
C-Print / Perspex
166.0 × 125.0 cm
Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery, Sprüth Magers Berlin London, Esther Schipper, Berlin, Matthew Marks Gallery
© Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / VISCOPY, Sydney

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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