The artistic process behind the German conceptual artist‘s work begins with photographs, drawn from the media, of sites where events have taken place (the sink used by Saddam Hussein in his Iraqi hideout, the landing of the priceless vase smashed in Cambridge, the Logan Airport gate through which the 9/11 hijackers passed…).
Then Demand creates large depopulated paper models of the “scenes”. Once photographed, the models are destroyed. That’s it: the artist insists that the meaning starts and finishes with his images.
Yet, a lot a critical considerations can be made about Demand’s works: are they representations, simulations or reconstruction? “You can never quite tell what kind of reality prevails in these pictures: that of the represented? or the representation itself? or both at once?“, wonders Andreas Ruby in his excellent article on TD in Parkett 62 – 2001.
Uncanny as they are, the scenes depicted by Demand are invested by art as well as history to convey a multilayered meaning. The significance of the depiction results from the artist’s choice, the intensive effort spent in the reconstruction, the elevation of the mundane and the historical value of the original site.
Again Andreas Ruby:
“The distinction between signifier and signified is thus also driven to extremes, as in the heyday of semiotics. Think of Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Weekend (1968), in which the red paint used for blood is intentionally shown to be red paint. Similarly Demand’s use of paper to represent all manner of things is equally undisguised. Interestingly this chameleon-like exploitation of the material is so alienated in his work that even where it is meant to represent paper, it looks odd and implausible.
Viewers of Demand’s pictorial spaces ultimately find themselves facing the same situation as in the photograph at the end of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow up: should they believe what they see, or do they see what they believe?
In 2007, an overview of 23 of the then recent Demand works (photographs, film and an installation created in collaboration with Caruso St.John Architects) has been held at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Central themes were stairs, ladders, and lifts. The catalogue was titled “L’esprit d’escalier”, (referring to the so-called ‘staircase wit’ remembered only when already on the stairs, i.e. when it is already too late.).
Here’s some of the images shown in the exhibition, among which the major work Landing (2006).