In the gravity (4, maybe 5 kilos?) Of the book monograph Thomas Demand unfolds a fragile and light world, on the edge of evanescence. Published by the British publisher Mack, The Complete Papers brings together twenty-eight years of work by the German artist through 500 pages that threaten to fly away at any moment. The very good idea of this chronological edition is to have inserted in the work, each year intercalaire, colored leaves flying, raw material of the sculptor of paper. As soon as we turn the pages, the pages on which are printed the dates threaten to go astray, and we have only one desire, to retain them, like our memories that we seek at all costs to keep.
As it ages, the book will no doubt lose its logical backbone and its internal clock, but what does it matter, since the work of the German artist, now living in California, deals with this very subject: memory. And the strength of the book – here it is a work in itself as recalled by Maylis de Kerangal during his interview with the artist at the BAL, Paris, in January – is to touch the literary dimension of Thomas Demand that for three decades, articulates with immense patience and meticulous constancy, sculpture and photography. Numerous texts by authors (including photographer Jeff Wall, philosopher Jacques Rancière or filmmaker Alexander Kluge) open the chapters.
Because the artist, born in Munich in 1964, is not a photographer like the others, he is the photographer of his sculptures. In the emptiness of his studio, he constructs his images from scratch, having challenged himself to use only paper, cardboard or transparent film. At most 20 photographs a year, and we learn in the long interview that introduces the book that he is not very comfortable with the technique. He describes himself in Jacques Tati's photography fighting with the elements when he tries to shoot on the roof of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles – he photographs his models in natural light and outside since he settled there.
Photo The Complete Papers (Mack, 2018)
Photographing is a difficult exercise for him because he has never studied this field. At the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, in the early 90's, he was studying sculpture under Fritz Schwegler. Thus, since he is a student, Demand observes the same protocol: from flat sheets, he unfolds a world in several dimensions. From 2D, he moved to 3D, which he finally flattened in 2D thanks to the photographic lens. A little like in children's relief books or Christmas cards that are opened and closed and contained in an imaginary world.
Thomas Demand had landed, for his first year of study, in a design sector for churches, among nuns. Has he kept a form of mysticism? "What to believe?" Has become, in any case, the fundamental question of his world of illusions. At the beginning of the thick catalog raisonné, his first unpublished folds resemble votive objects (folded shirt, shoe …) that Buddhists burn. Each of her still lifes tells a story, and all of her work, a philosophy. From the picture of the diving board (Diving board, 1994) which circulated so much through the rubble after the attack on Claus von Stauffenberg (Raum, 1994), the last hideout of Saddam Hussein in Tikrit (Kitchen, 2004) to the banal instantaneous to the iPhone (The Dailies, in progress since 2008), less well-known recent works, Demand jostles time and history. It shakes representations, collective and intimate, playing on the sensation of "déjà-vu".
The disturbing diving board recreated the swimming pool where he learned to swim, the ransacked piece started from the memory of an archive picture seen in school books and the clichés on the iPhone, like visual haikus, try to appropriate the immediate memory searched in our smartphones. This work of endurance – which finally evolves little over the catalog raisonné, except for huge challenges like (Grotto, 2006), the reconstruction of a life-size cave – makes sense where repetition has been seen.
Stubbornness pays at a time when beliefs are swaying with fake news and social networks. Because the sculptor Thomas Demand started from a simple idea: we all have images in the head. Are they true or only likely? This is what he tries to understand with his metaphorical photographs, paradoxically "Ghostly and realistic" (Alexander Kluge) And simply, using paper, noble and cheap material.
The Complete Papers of Thomas Demand. Mack Books, 504 pp., 99 €