By Cole Tracy
New York, NY- As opposed to his normal practice of working from news images, Thomas Demand turns his focus onto the everyday shots from his cellphone in “Dailies,” an exhibition on view through December 21 at the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York City.
The strange paradigm of looking at these ordinary moments, sculpturally recreated by Demand and then photographed, is serendipitous yet simultaneously meticulous. Each photograph shows a moment of solitude within an urban setting, with the end result looking like a visual diary. But each image was produced over several months, during which time Demand perfects these quiet moments into a miniature reality. The dye transfer prints look almost surreal; the information attained and the beautifully accurate color saturation give the images an even stronger life-like feel.
This show addresses the everyday, and lonesomeness in the modern world. Each image has a silent but specific perspective that reeks of sadness or displacement. The photographs are simple yet evocative of reality. Viewers will find themselves simultaneously considering the scene depicted, while trying to find a signifier that these are actually miniature sculptures of reality. In this collection of work, Demand has brought the trompe l’oeil into a modern art context.
In each, a narrative is insinuated through the everyday use of these items, leaving us wondering about the person who sees all these mildly barren objects on a daily basis.
For example: There’s a green felt pin-board on a white wall, with no notices, only pock marks and sparsely placed pins waiting for their next use; A straw and lid dramatically lit against a highly textured brick wall and dirty floor; A single comb sitting in the fluorescent light against the backdrop of a standard bathroom-tile wall and mirror.
The images address what’s left after an event has occurred; documenting fragments of previous occurrences; the anonymity and a feeling of lonesomeness is prevalent throughout.
Demand’s departure from his previous work based around news images is bold; he is willing to push his sculptural aspects further by showing spaces more personal to him. The focus of broader themes within news is easier to relate to — the process has become personal and complex due to the commonplace selection of images.
A German artist who works in Berlin, Demand is also strongly influenced by the history of where he comes from. In an interview, he discusses Hitler and his architect examining a miniature of a building to be created (in a photograph), to discuss his relationship to these small objects and their context. This is made clear through his first body of work as well, where he recreates scenes, which are part of the collective memory, as opposed to his own. By producing miniature spaces where events have occurred, such as the tunnel where Princess Diana died, he tries to further understand history via reproduction while forcing the viewer to reconsider these events through a different, staged, context as well.
Demand, with all his images, is trying to get at a deeper reality or thought related to an event. By creating mental spaces or areas, which we might not have access to, he gives us a closer reality or perception of the event than we may have previously had because, in his own words, he is “revisiting a locality that only exists in the imagination. Because no one has, for example, been to the control room in Fukushima.”
Whether producing photographs from our collective memory or his personal experience in a city, Demand is approaching broader concepts related to an event. In “Dailies,” the images contain a universality as well as specificity; they talk about the modern experience of existing within an urban environment.
Berlin is a large city with a lot of empty space; by recreating these scenes, Demand is trying to better understand the place in which he resides. The tasteless images which show humans only through remnants is definitive of his metropolis, and makes Demand’s icy personality even more elusive.
Mitch Epstein’s photographs of Berlin are similarly devoid of humans; his book, published by Steidl, portrays the complex history of Berlin through large empty spaces. He documents the contemporary architectural sense colliding with the traditional. Demand, too, explores history and his unique relationship to it by discretely commenting on moments in time, which are of importance to him.
In this show, Demand focuses on an alternate reality of our banal existence, showing us small occurrences to remind us of what it is like to be human. He is looking for clarity or meaning for his own and all of our lives by painstakingly creating experiences which we might all pass by on a daily basis.
(“Thomas Demand: Dailies” remains on view through December 21 at Matthew Marks Gallery, 523 West 24 Street, New York, New York. For more information, call (212) 243-0200.)