KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Column: Art / Music / Theatre

Life’s Unfamiliarity

by Tim Roberts , 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.

9780733633782

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their July picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

lead_960

James Tierney

I Call The Shots: The provocation of violent women

In a Western culture increasingly stripped of its old taboos, violent acts by women – real and imagined – still possess the genuine power to shock. Cultural representations of violent women can both affirm and react against the kind of pernicious questioning that posits women as fundamentally, and fatally, reactive. Read more »

9781925106510

Oliver Mol

July First Book Club: Read an excerpt from Oliver Mol’s Lion Attack!

At the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club event in July, Oliver Mol will discuss his debut memoir, Lion Attack!. Read an extract from this funny, energetic and original coming-of-age story, which interweaves stories from Oliver’s childhood in Texas and his young adulthood in Melbourne. Read more »

abortion

Rebecca Shaw

Choice Without Stigma: Dismantling the abortion taboo

Abortion is still illegal in the criminal code in Queensland – even in this, the Year of Our Beyoncé 2015. While women are unlikely to face practical obstacles to abortion due to the law, it can still cause isolation and unnecessary fear, and creates a stigma around the act. Read more »

17177200132_2383e88c36_k

Rebecca Shaw

Rage Against the Marriage: The inanity of same sex marriage debate in Australia

I am someone who is completely comfortable in my sexuality, and who classifies myself as the genus Lesbionisos. I am 100% certain that I am not abnormal, an abomination, or in any way inferior to heterosexual people. Sometimes I even secretly think non-heterosexuals might be superior. But I haven’t always been this assured. Read more »

clouds-of-sila-maria-1

Rebecca Shaw

The curse of the ‘gal pals’

As a well-known humourless, angry, hairy arm-pitted, feminist lesbian, I encounter daily issues that I can place on a scale from things that mildly irritate me all the way to things that completely offend me. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

tom-cruise-jack-reacher-premiere-postponed

Chris Somerville

A lit match in a box of wet dynamite: Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher

I first watched Jack Reacher a few years ago, in a spate of insomnia. The plot is a confused mess, both needlessly intricate and incredibly simple. I’m not going to go into it, mainly because I don’t actually know why the people in this movie do anything. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

3ab01d05-2590-4aa4-80f4-45fab0eccec4-2060x1236

Anwen Crawford

Heart of Darkness: UnREAL‘s ruthless reality

Everlasting, the show-within-a-show at the dark centre of new American television series UnREAL, is a fantasy blend of champagne cocktails, pool parties and true love. Everlasting is a Bachelor-style game show in which a dozen immaculately groomed women compete for a handsome millionaire husband, and its relationship to real life is, like any ‘reality’ show, non-existent. Nothing goes to air on Everlasting that has not been scripted, staged, and edited for maximum controversy. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

OITNB2

Anwen Crawford

Still in Prison: The limitations of Orange is the New Black

No, I haven’t binge-watched the entire new season of Orange Is The New Black in one sleepless, bleary-eyed frenzy. This season, the show’s third, doesn’t lend itself to that kind of viewing. The pace is slower, the cliff-hangers missing. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Keith - photo Shane Reid

Jane Howard

Local Courage, Global Reach: The National Play Festival

There is something to be gained from observing any collection of works in close proximity, and in these readings you could see the way Australian playwrights are reaching out into the world. Together, these works show the minds of our playwrights in robust health, with works that are itching to find their audience. Read more »

2015GISELLE_Artists of The Australian Ballet. PhotoJeffBusby

Jane Howard

The Beautiful and the Dated: Australian Ballet’s Giselle

The weight of history sits heavily on the Australian Ballet’s Giselle. One of the most enduringly popular ballets from the romantic period, there is much to delight in its presence on stage and its lasting lineage. But 175 years after its debut, in a production that premiered 30 years ago, the sheen of Giselle has been dulled. Read more »

CrawlMeBlood_20150607_261_LoRes copy

Jane Howard

Adhocracy: Lifting the curtain on the creative process

Every June long weekend I wrap myself up in several extra layers and make my way to the Waterside Worker’s Hall in Port Adelaide for Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse that brings together artists from around the country for a weekend of creative development. Read more »