Advertisement

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.

anchorpoint_cover-hi-res-2

James Tierney

Unblinkingly Into Harsh Terrain: Alice Robinson’s Anchor Point

The Australian landscape is much traversed in our national imagination, yet rarely entirely comfortably. For the 85 per cent of Australians living within 50 kilometres of the coast, the continent that lies at our backs that is emptier, hotter, and remains haunted by the circumstance of its possession. Read more »

loitering-cover-cmyk-570

Sam van Zweden

The Writer at the Centre of the Essay: Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering

Loitering is Charles D’Ambrosio’s quietly brave collection of experimental essays. It doesn’t announce itself noisily, but associations slide sideways through the essays in unexpected ways. This collection is lyric in both senses – freely associative and loose, it borrows from the world, trying meaning on for size, producing metaphors and connections wherever it sees fit. Read more »

discworld

Elizabeth Flux

Footnote to a life: How Terry Pratchett kept me from going postal

If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then teenage me would have been the steamroller to Terry Pratchett’s somewhat plagiarised tarmac. In the ten years since I first picked up The Fifth Elephant, my work has been littered with Pratchettisms to varying degrees. Read more »

6314976-3x2-940x627

Rebecca Shaw

Out of Alignment: Religion, politics and priorities

Throughout your (hopefully long) life, you will often be forced to prioritise one thing over another thing.
Because we make these decisions based on what we personally think is important or morally right, the things other people choose to prioritise can be confusing or upsetting to us. I find this happens regularly when bearing witness to what some religious people or religious groups choose to place importance on. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. Read more »

9807778273_afe6ec792d_z

Rebecca Shaw

Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling

We are still at a point where far less than half the movies we see have a clear female protagonist, even though women are half of the population. If women as an ENTITY are not properly represented, their stories not told, what chance then do women of colour have? Read more »

flock_roof

Anwen Crawford

Don’t be Sheepish: Why Ewe Should See Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest feature-length production from Aardman Animations (the folk who brought us Chicken Run), and it is a delight. Borrow a young relative for cover if you must, but believe me, you are not too cool for a kid’s movie when it’s this much fun. Read more »

9331818982_322b389ff2_z

Annabel Brady-Brown

The blue pill or the red pill? In defence of highbrow film

Cinema is a powerful medium. Going to the movies, be it a Lav Diaz epic or a Michael Bay blockbuster, is an act of submission. You hand over $15 and the whole mash of your brain/senses/heart/dreams for ninety minutes. Read more »

girlwalkshomealoneatnight

Anwen Crawford

Bad Cities

A Most Violent Year has an atmosphere of all-pervading dread, like a film noir, as if the polluted air of New York itself was causing people to act against their better intentions. Even more haunting and more noir is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a memorably audacious debut feature from American-Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

agent-carter-7683

Danielle Binks

Agent Carter and the future of the female superhero

Agent Carter has been described ‘a Triumph for Women, Marvel and TV,’ and heralded as an important new chapter in comics culture. If this supposedly groundbreaking new show fails, does it spell doom for the future of female-led superhero franchises? Read more »

2011 Jesse Knish Photography

Katie Williams

Pilgrimage to San Francisco: Power and Privilege at the Game Developers Conference

Attendees talk about the annual pilgrimage to the Game Developer’s Conference with the same reverence as a child’s first trip to Disney World. It’s the Magic Kingdom for adult nerds. The weeks leading up to the conference are full of discussion about which parties to attend, and how best to make an impression on people who could be useful in furthering your game development career. Read more »

jakobson0052

Katie Williams

Storytelling vs. interactivity: What makes a highbrow game?

What makes a game ‘highbrow’? We don’t have solid criteria for deciding conclusively which games are masterpieces, and which are just dumb, explosive fun. Read more »

ss_f6a450fbf737eb04c58b973f72e8817bb2b50285.600x338

Katie Williams

Brain Candy: Are game jams diluting the potential of video games?

In a world where YouTube gameplay videos narrated by hollering amateurs hold as much clout – if not more – than professional game critics, I worry that developers may be swayed to choose an easier, unimaginative, and more vacuous path to success. Read more »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »

Tessa Waters stars in Womanz

Jane Howard

Fringe Feminism: Women, comedy and performance art

Taken together, the work of these female comics and performers loudly proclaims that their ideas about gender, femininity, performance and comedy are not diametrically opposed. It is because of their performance backgrounds that their shows are hilarious, not in spite of them. Read more »

Before Us_3

Jane Howard

Stuart Bowden’s Unfamiliar, Universal Worlds

It’s hard to classify the work of Stuart Bowden. His one-person storytelling theatre works are at once hilarious and melancholy. They exist in a particular space of fringe theatre: intricately crafted stories built for small rooms & small audiences, they lift and rise that audience, gathering us all up in the magic of stories & the closeness they can breed. Read more »