Thomas Demand. Mirror Without Memory
Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow
September 10, 2021 – January 30, 2022
Garage Museum of Contemporary Art presents the first Russian exhibition of Thomas Demand, one of the most important photographers of recent decades. Borrowing images of events from the press and other sources (or organizing technical shoots), Demand reproduces these scenes in life size from cardboard and paper – basically making sculptures – after which he photographs them and subsequently destroys the models.
Mirror Without Memory is composed of several fragments spread across two floors of the Museum. The ground floor is focused on the concept of models and modeling, the alpha and omega of Demand’s practice. Through interaction with architects (the Japanese practice SANAA and the UK-Swiss practice Caruso St John Architects), the artist presents a comprehensive exploration of the model: its life cycles, inner dynamics, the regimes of its synchronization with physical reality. On the first floor this energy of dialogue produces different forms. The first things the visitor discovers when climbing the stairs are hanging cinema structures that show movies by the German film – and TV maker, author, producer, public figure, and ideologist of the New German Cinema, Alexander Kluge. These film pavilions, designed by Demand, are floating models that distantly reference constructivist form-making. Kluge’s films are video sequels or video interpretations of three works by Demand displayed as part of the exhibition- Repository, Five Globes, and Ruine/Ruin.
The main part of the exhibition brings together works from the period 1991-2021. The last series was made especially for Garage and examines the story of Edward Snowden. Accordingly, Demand’s exhibition is a complex systemic reflection not only of subjects selected in collaboration with the architects and Alexander Kluge but also of reality itself and our ideas about it, which are regulated today by unreliable memory, general conventions regarding events of one kind or another, and subjective experiences. Thomas Demand’s artistic practice centers around the image as such, its nature, methods of creation/construction, and the mechanics of the viewer’s perception. When we look at his photographs, what do we actually see? How much do the photographed paper and cardboard models relate to sensory or historical reality? Do we see some kind of “thought forms,” mental constructs or living situations when we look at shards of porcelain in a museum, hotel rooms, a fairground ride frozen at the highest point, a landing gate or an empty Bonn parliament?
Demand’s works fundamentally do not line up into a sequential narrative; they remain single, fragmented, splintered. French philosopher Jacques Rancière accurately describes them as “mirrors” reflecting emptiness (and this is yet another way of decoding the mirror metaphor in the title of the exhibition). Fragments can only withstand “elective affinity,” referencing not only the title of Goethe’s novel, but to the eighteenth-century chemical term that denotes the ability of chemicals to combine with other substances or their compounds, choosing some over others. Informed by the principle of “elective affinity,” Demand’s works also live within the exhibition as essentially autonomous units that assemble into formal or substantive syncopations.
The various combinations of the exhibition become part of a lengthy (and intuitive on the part of the artist) process of seeking, selecting, constructing/cutting and photographing objects, imparting a specific sense of temporariness that merges with other “temporarinesses“: our unreliable memory, the washing out of pictures from the first pages of search engines and their immersion into an endless digital archive of images “on demand.”