Thomas Demand is primarily a sculptor. His works are 1:1 prints of highly realistic, life-sized models and sets painstakingly crafted in the studio out of paper and cardboard, which he photographs and then destroys. His interest focuses on the scenes of events that have never been entirely clarified and retain an aura of mystery in the collective memory. Embassy (2007), for example, is a series devoted to the embassy of Niger in Rome, from which official stamps and notepaper were stolen and used to fabricate documents providing the George W. Bush administration with supposed evidence that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Tunnel (1999) instead features the Pont de l’Alma underpass in Paris where Lady Diana and her companion lost their lives.
Presidency was commissioned by the New York Times Magazine, which published the frontal image of the desk in the Oval Office on its cover in November 2008, immediately after the presidential elections. The image created by the artist does not, however, offer any clue as to the identity of the president. Is the leather armchair still occupied by George W. Bush or does Barack Obama sit there now? Even though we do not know, however, the empty room constitutes a symbol of political and ideological decisions of the utmost importance. The question is thus raised of the connection between the Oval Office and the power it embodies. Thomas Demand addresses not only the illusion of power but also the illusory authenticity of photography in a society of communication. The fact that it was a weekly news magazine that commissioned the work from an artist like Demand adds a further significant element. Demand plays with representation as simulation that comes to replace the reality represented.
In actual fact, he works almost exclusively on images of places he has never visited in person. These are supplied by the mass media, of which he himself is a consumer, and firmly imprinted in the collective memory. At the same time, however, he eliminates every trace of the events and the figures involved. The scenes are represented in a deliberately neutral way, stripped of any detail that might gratify the voyeuristic appetites of the public. These images possess symbolic value due to events that the artist does not, however, show us. It is the viewer that must be aware of the facts in order to give the images their narrative dimension. Demand thus undertakes a reflection on individual moments in our recent history through reiteration, representation at two removes.
© Ruth Zoe Andreas, all rights reserved