KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Column: Art / Music / Theatre

Life’s Unfamiliarity

by Imogen , December 18, 20121 Comment

Artist Thomas Demand. Photo credit: C. Lange

Much of modern art aims – ad nauseam, in many cases – to uncover the intrinsic oddness of seemingly everyday experiences. Thomas Demand’s latest exhibition conforms to this template. Many of the photographs in his NGV exhibition depict superficially ‘normal’ scenes, which become more unsettling with each glance.

Unfortunately, Demand often seems content dealing in artistic clichés. Paneel (Peg Board, 1996), for example, is simply a printed pegboard – that is, a regular array of black dots on a white background. Given that dismal opener, I initially feared that I was in for a bleak hour of mini-Mondrian doodles.

Fortunately, things soon improve with the striking, high-sheen Lichtung (Clearing, 2003). Demand’s vision of dappled light filtered through leaves, while straightforward in subject matter, certainly contains deft use of texture. Warm light feathers the leaves, with the scene’s richly defined brown trunks creating a crisp collage-like contrast.

Demand’s reverence for nature is repeated in Grotto (2006), a magnificent panorama of a cave lacerated by horizontal striations which give it the appearance of an intricate Lego landscape. Yet the open-ended interpretability of this and other images also seemed to cloud the artist’s aims – is his exhibition a collection of stark and beautiful shots pregnant with meaning, or is there a higher purpose at work?

It’s too soon to tell, as these bucolic impulses give way to a far colder, detached and oblique perspective. This segue is perfectly represented by Labor (Laboratory, 2000), a photograph of a soundproof booth, which inventively manipulates perspective and vanishing point. The angle at which the room is photographed makes it resemble a giant Necker Cube, pivoting back and forth between convex and concave when the viewing angle shifts. Demand obviously savours the patterns interlaced with the constructed and natural worlds, as the booth’s geometric baffles resembled a fractal-like organism.

Another of Demand’s grand themes is the disconcerting perfection of our constructed world. For example, Copyshop (1999) presents what would, in less meticulous hands, appear as a banal photocopying room. Yet the tightly controlled details tell another story: careful arrangements of wrapped A4 reams, a buckled, decaying suspended ceiling, and the lumbering bulk of the photocopiers generate a slight feeling of unease.

This theme of emptied humans spaces continues in several other works – including Parlement (Parliament, 2009), which depicts a deserted council office divided by gold-studded black partitions. This sumptuous environment – which seems too ridiculously well-appointed for human-like creatures to work in – is presented as a beautiful object of quiet contemplation, like a Fabergé egg or the interior of a Byzantine court. Yet the reverent tone is cut against by the lever arch file on one of the desks, its cheap utility deflating the scene’s overall effect.

In Tribute (2011), a shrine to two women becomes something about which to harbour regret, as the warmth of a sea of flickering electric lanterns is undermined by the absence of people. Bullion (2003), which mines a similar vein of human absence, seems a little too much like a graphic in the Financial Review – or a particularly classy piece of clip art.  

As the exhibition progresses, Demand’s intentions become buried even further under artistic opacity. By the time we get to Space Simulator (2003), for example, it’s anyone’s guess: polygonal shapes cluster around a piece of unidentified drug lab-style machinery. This theme of objects’ unyieldingness is duplicated in Shed (2006), which presents a well-ordered assemblage of pastel-tinted paint pots next to yet another miscellaneous machine (digital scales, perhaps?); Kontrollraum (Control Room, 2011), a pastel-green Goodies-style computer, draped with a lasagne of waffled plastic sheeting. At times, Demand’s endless, aimless portentousness reminded me of Resistentialism, that immortal smackdown of existential phenomenology.

One of the show’s more interpretation-friendly works, Vault (2012), depicts a storeroom of framed pictures, housed within pastel IKEA bookshelves. Each wrapped and stacked painting is gutted of its original meaning; the tissue paper-wrapped gilt frames cheapen the artworks irredeemably. A bust of Pericles peers out forlornly from one of the shelves, his majesty made ridiculous. Here, Demand portrays modern accoutrements as inherently deficient when compared with natural forms.

That’s my best guess, anyway – yet it’s impossible to know for sure. Demand’s intentions often seem to dissolve behind his undeniable mastery of mise-en-scene. Sharing the icy, withdrawn attitude of many contemporary artists, Demand’s addiction to enigmas prevents his works from breaking through the viewer’s quizzical stare. The photographs appear as brilliant tricks, rather than coherent artworks with an overarching vision.

As a result, the exhibition’s intellectual heft fails to justify its perverse resistance to any kind of interpretation. There’s no doubt Demand is a technical master, yet his motivations for creating art in the first place are unfathomable. We live in a cold manufactured environment that has traduced its natural roots, Demand seems to be telling us over and over again. Perhaps Demand’s obvious love of natural scenes makes him an odd sort of guarded sentimentalist. If so, he’s among history’s chilliest romantics.

Thomas Demand
30 November 2012 – 17 March 2013

Temporary Exhibition, Space 2 & 3
National Gallery of Victoria

Tim Roberts is a Killings columnist and a freelance writer living in Melbourne.




  • http://www.cars.com cars

    All large purchases are always intimidating, especially if
    you are uninformed about the industry. One of the scariest
    purchases is buying cars. Many people fear they are getting ripped off and you
    surely don’t want that. Avoid buying a lemon by looking through these great tips and tricks regarding car purchases.

9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

theartofasking_image

Julia Tulloh

Living on fans: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Rather than enticing people to pay for music through marketing campaigns and radio play, Amanda Palmer is interested in connecting with her fans, becoming friends with them, and creating a system of exchange within the community that is formed. This means that art is not often payed for with money. Read more »

womeninclothes-600

Carody Culver

Closet Concerns: Women in Clothes

Women in Clothes wants to tell a more inclusive story, to reveal the pleasures, hang-ups and complexities that reside in the simple act of dressing ourselves, and to remind us that we don’t perform our style rituals in a vacuum. Read more »

4285342-3x4-700x933

Kylie Maslen

The Harp in the South and other stories I wasn’t taught at school

The classics I studied at school were certainly great works, but how relevant are these books to young Australians? Yes, they were valuable to study as examples of technical skill. But they were all by men, all white and all dead. Read more »

theartofasking_image

Julia Tulloh

Living on fans: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Rather than enticing people to pay for music through marketing campaigns and radio play, Amanda Palmer is interested in connecting with her fans, becoming friends with them, and creating a system of exchange within the community that is formed. This means that art is not often payed for with money. Read more »

Taypic

Julia Tulloh

Lovers, haters, and TaySway’s 1989

TaySway is a polariser: haters really hate her. The issue for many feminists and critics is that they simply don’t like Taylor’s version of authenticity, which happens to be embodied by a blonde, white, straight, American women from a reasonably privileged background. Read more »

15115828030_526f79c515_z

Julia Tulloh

The celebrity spokesperson phenomenon

What should we expect celebrity advocates to deliver? Emma Watson is not a full-time activist, but if she inspires young people to take an interest in gender equality, is that not a good thing? Read more »

Screen-Shot-2014-10-01-at-11.22.21-AM

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Can too many parts destroy an adaptation? The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

It’s a relief to feel the weight of fidelity lift off an adaptation film, as Mockingjay: Part 1 becomes a meta-exploration of fame, franchise and future. Read more »

Maps to the Stars

Rochelle Siemieonwicz

Monsters in Los Angeles: Maps to the Stars and Nightcrawler

Both Maps to the Stars and Nightcrawler are peopled by monsters who may look human, but are actually spiritually deformed and morally repugnant creatures of the most loathsome kind. The suggestion implicit in each of these thrillingly creepy stories is that these ‘freaks’ are born out of and adapted to the hellish spiritual landscape of LA. Read more »

WinterSleep-2-poster-450

Rochelle Siemienowicz

A matter of time: very long films

It’s a fatal moment for any film lover: that instant when you look away from the screen and check your watch, holding it up to the light to judge how much time is left before you can escape. A wince of pain as you realise there are still 40 minutes to go. Read more »

IMG_0086

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Pictures of pictures: Monument Valley and the rise of the in-game photographer

Presenting screencapturing a game as a form of camera-free ‘photography’ gives rise to a conceptual issue. If the ‘photographer’ is moving through, and capturing, a world created entirely by others, then who exactly should take the credit for any images created? Read more »

IMG_4309

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Patrons and gamemakers in the shadow of Gamergate

There is a lot to unpack about Gamergate, and a great deal more that isn’t at all worth taking seriously, but what the patronage pseudo-controversy has drawn attention to is the fact that there are potentially huge issues with moving to a model of monetary transactions in which our payments are increasingly networked and ‘social’. Read more »

ST_Ello_600

Connor Tomas O'Brien

The Rise of the High-Minded Startup

Ello’s manifesto is the key to understanding its relative success, and how it has managed to sign up hundreds of thousands of users despite offering a wafer-thin feature set. Read more »

00page

Danielle Binks

Disability or superpower? Deaf identity in YA

In September this year, American author and illustrator Cece Bell released a graphic memoir, El Deafo, about losing her hearing at the age of four. El Deafo details Bell’s middle-grade life and deaf experiences: she wears a clunky hearing aid, ‘The Phonic Ear’; struggles to learn to … Read more »

Anne of Green Gables

Danielle Binks

Books that take you there: YA literary tourism

How has literary tourism taken on new dimensions and greater capitalism, thanks to youth literature – both old and new, book and film? Read more »

9781863956925

Danielle Binks

Mean girls, bullies and private school privilege: Alice Pung’s Laurinda

Alice Pung’s Laurinda is hard-edged satire cloaked in contemporary YA: exploring class dynamics, everyday racism and bullying. Read more »

2839965900_c23f818c97_z

Jane Howard

How many women composers? Classical music’s invisible women

After receiving yet another press release for a classical music concert, I tweeted an email I’d sent to the publicist asking why there were no women composers in the program. From then it became a regular task I set myself: when I received a music press release, I’d ask #howmanywomencomposers, and post the results on Twitter. Read more »

3827910256_89135334f0_z

Chad Parkhill

Who killed Amanda Palmer fandom?

Fans and consumers tend to avoid music made by people whose actions disagree with their moral compasses, and, conversely, to reward those whose actions align with them. But are they right to do so? Read more »

Taypic

Julia Tulloh

Lovers, haters, and TaySway’s 1989

TaySway is a polariser: haters really hate her. The issue for many feminists and critics is that they simply don’t like Taylor’s version of authenticity, which happens to be embodied by a blonde, white, straight, American women from a reasonably privileged background. Read more »

Marry Me - Season Pilot

Stephanie Van Schilt

Happy Hangovers and False Starts: Happy Endings and Marry Me

Binging rarely ends well. Binge eating is how unwanted food babies happen. Binge drinking is how inhibitions and memories are erased. Binge-watching a TV show can take over your life. Which is exactly what happened a few years ago when I fell in love with Happy Endings. … Read more »

thecode_main-620x349

Stephanie Van Schilt

An obligation to be kind? Australian TV critics and The Code

When Margaret Pomeranz recently spoke out about the obligation of local film critics to support the Australian film industry, she generated an interesting conversation in the critical community. Are critics who discuss the small screen in the public sphere obligated to be critically kind in their local coverage? Read more »

bojack-horseman-exclusive-trailer-debut_bghe

Stephanie Van Schilt

Jerks, antiheroes and failed adulthood in You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman

In addition to both being really funny, two new US comedies – You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman – speak to a widely-held fear about what, exactly, constitutes ‘adulthood’. Read more »