Das Spiel mit der Erinnerung - Die Bilderwelt des Künstlers Thomas Demand




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A Film by Jeremy JP Fekete

HD 26’ / 52’

Commissioning editor:

Mechtild Lehning

A production of

LOOKS Filmproduktionen GmbH

in Coproduction with Radio Bremen

in Collaboration with ARTE


LOOKS Filmproduktionen GmbH

Fehrbelliner Str. 93

10119 Berlin, Germany


Producer: Martina Haubrich

Phone: + 49.30.323060-12

Mobil: + 49.151.140 70556


Thomas Demand

Oval Office

Oval Office


He had his first solo show in 1991,

on the day when the art bubble

bursted in America. Fourteen years

later a retrospective of his work is

on display in the New York Museum

of Modern Art. One of his pieces,

»Oval Office«, was commissioned

for the cover of the New York

Times Magazine. Today, his work is

represented by five galleries from

New York to Tokyo and his photographs

are commanding six figure




The Paper Illusions of THOMAS DEMAND


Thomas Demand, internationally acclaimed

as a »photographer«; but yet not your usual

photographer, takes photographs of models;

photographs that are mostly recreations of

specific places. He builds life-sized models out

of pasteboard and paper in his studio that are

inspired by incidents he finds in the media and

private photos. Even though the models require

the greatest expenditure in the work process, he

photographs them, destroys and then dis poses

them afterwards. Regarding this he resembles a

Ceremonial Master during the Baroque period

who with tremendous expenditure also created

the perfect illusion of an artificial world for just

one festive evening.

His final photographic product, each one perfectly

mounted behind a mirror-like Plexiglas,

evokes the collective memory. The viewer sees

well-known visual images of scandals and political

or social events which have become part

of our common visual consciousness long ago.

As much as Demand reduces the images to a

few necessary details, the viewer develops his

own fantasy being confronted with the all too

familiar media images.

This happens with the »Badezimmer« (Bath

Room), where the Minister President of Schleswig-Holstein

was found dead in a bathtub in a

Geneva hotel in 1987; the old seating arrangements

of the German parliament when it was

located in Bonn; the devastated room in the

Wolf’s Lair that Hitler left just before a bomb


Demand creates abstractions of these buildings

and rooms that we only know from photo graphs.

He creates them so that we can recognize that

they are constructed – by his choice of perspective

or of the moment. We can only tell the shot

has not been taken at the original location because

all individuality and every letter have been

erased. With these strange historical locations,



The Paper Illusions of THOMAS DEMAND



who seem to be free of history, Demand creates

a staged design for the amorphous shapes of

our collective memory. He describes it as such:

»It is not the event itself that interests me, but

rather the diffuse and shadowy existence that

they lead to in the shadowy and diffuse realm

of our memory.«

This film is not intended to become a portrait of

Thomas Demand. He would even refuse that. In

his private sphere, as in his work, the reduction,

the minimum, the omission of the persona is

also a leitmotiv that runs through Demand’s understanding

of who he is. Even more, the stories

of the locations that have been »cleared up«

by him need to be further examined. The facts

along with the personal backgrounds he keeps

referring to in his exhibitions neither indicate

nor do they explain.

In the piece »„Heldenorgel« (Hero Organ), the

viewer sees is an impressive work, a battle between

pasteboard and paper. But is the 3 x 2 meter

photo image pure craftsmanship or an very

artistic use of glue? The laconic title, »Heldenorgel«,

gives us a hint that something huge is being

presented. But who still remembers this myth?

Even Thomas Demand didn’t know anything of

its existence until an artist friend placed an old

postcard in his hand. It immediately cought his

interest – a resonating World War I memorial

– which became a victim to the collective amnesia

of an entire nation.Thomas Demand begins

to examine the lost memory. He drives to Kufstein

in the Tyrol to Austria, where the largest

free-standing organ in the world is enthroned.

4,307 organ pipes stand in a row like canons

under the roof of an old fortress. With a certain

amount of admiration, Demand still talks about

how this object gradually revealed itself to him.

The song »Vom Guten Kameraden« (The Good

Comrade) has been played on this organ, which

has been donated by veterans of the First World

War since 1931, in memory of their fallen comrades.

It reverberates from the mountain top to

the valley, to Germany and Austria and beyond.

»Not as brut as the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

which became a bulky obstacle that stands in

the way of visitors, than rather a memorial that

performs well,« as Demand describes this form

of honoring the dead. Just on the day the artist

called the director of the local music school,

who was assigned to play the organ every day,

the dismantling of the organ pipes was in progress.

The mayor was turning the instrumental

performance into a tourist attraction. Because

of this the organist resigned her job, due to the

objection to this plan. Demand set out for the

memorial right away and twelve hours later he

arrived in Kufstein.

While the craftsmen were working in the back

with their screwdrivers, the music teacher

played on the instrument at the artist’s request

for a last time. »Nothing but minor chords, like

the end titles of a film that didn’t had a happy

end,« he recalls. Since refurbishing the pipes,






The Paper Illusions of THOMAS DEMAND


they number 4,948. The song, »The Good

Com rade«, could be heard once again at noon

throughout the entire town – with a favorable

wind up to ten kilometers away. The booming

notes could even be heard on the top of the

»Wilden Kaisers«. With his art, Thomas Demand

restored the `heroic organ´ for the public


Demand also has quite a sense of humor – as

demonstrated in his piece, »Landing« (Landing).

It was inspired by the picture of a mobilephone

photograph, shoot by a museum visitor,

that showed the results from an accident in

the Fitzwilliam Museum of Art and Antiques in

Cambridge, England.

In January 2006, a man stumbled over his shoe

string and fell down some stairs on three 300

year old vases from the Quing Dynasty. All three

vases broke. This mobile phone snapshot of

the bizarre accident quickly found its way to

the Internet and even the museum set up an

extra Internet site about the clean up and the

re sulting restoration process. The accident became

a media coup for the museum. »In April

that same year, the man was officially arrested,

under the suspicion that he had intentionally

tied his shoe strings together to gain attention,«

added Thomas Demand. Incontestably, Demand

has accentuated the comedic side for his reconstruction

of this photograph of the accident.

Even the working title speaks plays with linguistic

slapstick: »Landing« is on the one hand a

common architectural term and at the same

time it describes a bizarre event with a twist on

the meaning of the word.

On the other hand, the objects in »Gate« or

»Kitchen« tell complete dramas: The yellow

telephone next to the safety lock that was not

removed, because the murderer was not recognized;

the matches the fallen tyrant Saddam

Hussein used to warm his coffee in his rabbit

hole while a war raged outside.

The themes Demand has made use of are multilayered,

from an apparently coincidence to

trivial happenings to the unforgettably tragic.

Whether referring to political events or simply

owing to the beauty of nature, all of his artworks

never fail in their effect. He made a name

for himself with an annoying, beautiful forest

we saw in a photograph in which succulent,

deep green leaves were bathed in a bright early

morning light, a forest like the ones French

landscape painters once painted; and ambitious

wildlife journalist loved to portray. The perfect

forest that the Berlin artist pre sented in his five

meter wide monumental photograph, »Clearing«,

was a scenery made from paper that was

created with an very nearly monumental expenditure

of time and energy in his Berlin studio.

His assistants wrapped no less than 270,000

sheets of paper on the artificial branches for

months on end. The sun in this clearing, which

looks more beautiful than any forest imaginable,

shines from his studio lamps.






The Paper Illusions of THOMAS DEMAND




In approaching Thomas Demand’s work cinematographically,

we will forgo juxtaposing his works of art with the original

locations. These »Before and After« effect would not do justice

to Demand’s own originals. This approach will be used right up

to or after the moment captured in Demand’s magnum opus.

In order to narrate the authentic as well as the personal backgrounds

of his staged photographs, these portraits must themselves

be set in the scene again to preserve the memory game

– even while being watched on a television monitor.

For this, his art should be taken up and distributed using artificial

and conceptional transposition on film. His »cleared up« images

are revived again in the background inasmuch as, for example,

his naturalistic works like »Stroh« (Straw), »Rasen« (Lawn), return

to nature to stage them there in front of waving corn fields

to clarify Demand’s fascination with the structure of nature.

Each take will always remain a mysterious moment – whether

we drive to Kufstein to the Hero Organ to get closer to Demand’s

explanation or to the accident at the English Fitzwilliam Museum

in order to provide the feeling of the original moment – the

alienated viewpoint will constantly be emphasized.

The exhibition at the Berlin National Gallery 2009/2010 provides

the framework for the film. The images shot there on the one

hand are remarkably suitable as short, recurring way stations and

on the other hand as entry and exit points for the various levels

of the film. By focusing on one of the images we begin to plunge

and dive in these stories and backgrounds.

Original music and archive material from previous exhibitions

compliment the search for the hidden agendas of Demand’s




The Paper Illusions of THOMAS DEMAND



A Film by Jeremy JP Fekete


Length: 26’ & 52”

Format: HD Cam

A production of LOOKS Filmproduktionen GmbH

in Coproduction with Radio Bremen

in Collaboration with ARTE.

Commissioning editor: Mechtild Lehning


LOOKS Filmproduktionen GmbH

Fehrbelliner Str. 93

10119 Berlin, Germany

Producer: Martina Haubrich

Phone: + 49.30.323060-12

Mobil: + 49.151.140 70556

E-mail: haubrich@looksfilm.tv


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