Bwog’s Postmodern correspondent James Rathmell, who is really a synthesis of previous Bwog art correspondents, spent a few hours with the loveable Teuton Thomas Demand. He brings us this report.

Though a lecture with the pretentiously alliterative title “Fiction, Fact & Fabrication” sounds like something better suited for an art school than Avery’s Wood Auditorium, Thursday night’s visit from Thomas Demand was insightful and approachable. Hell, at times, it was even very entertaining. Demand was introduced as a paragon of Architecture School-ness: “A minority figure, a person who doesn’t know what a building is. Schools of Architecture are asylums,” the speaker said, “places for those crazy people who are strangers in their own world.”  

Though not apparent at first, Demand fits this description perfectly. He speaks fluent English, though tinged with a German accent. He wears black glasses and has a receding hairline, and a patterned shirt stuck out from beneath his sweater for the entire lecture. He was incredibly nondescript by all measures. Yet his art shows a view of the world in which he is a complete stranger. It is postmodern in the best sense of the word: a representation of a representation.

He began by playing a clip from one of his recent works “Rain,” in which rain is filmed hitting glass for about four and a half minutes. He called the process of making it “a long and painful, banal and trivial exercise.” The sound of rain in the auditorium drowned out his words, but when he stopped the tape, he explained that none of what we had heard or seen was real. The hundreds of raindrops had all been animated, and the sound was recorded and laid over the film. This unapparent artificiality was the theme of his presentation. After he showed photographs of rooms that seemed completely real, he would go on to reveal that they were fabricated.

Demand explained that he began as a sculptor, creating “prototype, Utopian versions of things.”  Most of what he made was disposable, fabricated from cardboard or paper, and therefore temporary. Demand then pursued photography as a way to capture things. Most of his subsequent artworks have been photographs of structures made from cardboard: recreations of the area where the Florida recount happened, the last security checkpoint that the 9/11 hijackers went through, the kitchen where Saddam Hussein was found, the Tunisian Embassy in Rome, and, most recently, the Oval Office, which he said, “showed a meta-level about the presidency”.

The purpose of all this artwork is to emphasize “the distance between the thing it reminds you of and what it is.”  The rooms he makes are cardboard, but they remind the viewer so much of a kitchen, or the Oval Office that the line between essence and artifice begins to blur. Many of his pieces are overtly political, but the overarching idea is that Demand wants “places to be their own commentary.”

Demand’s most recent piece will be on display in Berlin in September; it is a reconstruction of the German Parliament from the 60s and 70s. It is meant to capture the fundamental representation of the place, what Demand referred as the “dark memory.”