Behind the Scenes, Getty Research Institute, Photographs, Film, and Video

A Visit to Thomas Demand’s Studio

During my work as a Multicultural Undergraduate Intern at the Getty this summer,  I was invited to join colleagues from the Getty Research Institute on a visit to artist Thomas Demand’s studio in Culver City. It was a memorable look at his unique process.

Thomas Demand welcomes Getty visitors to his Culver City studio

Demand is a contemporary artist from Germany who works mainly in sculpture, photography, and video. He’s known for making photographs and films of 3-D life-size models, which appear in his work to be the actual rooms and spaces themselves. His paper and cardboard constructions of interiors and environments often depict historically or politically significant locations—such as the Oval Office and an embassy involved in the Iraq WMD forgeries—and create a tension between fabricated and real.

Demand was also a visiting scholar at the Getty this year. The Getty Research Institute’s Scholars Program invites scholars and artists to work at the Getty Center or the Getty Villa, doing research on  a particular theme chosen each year. The theme of this 2010/2011 program was the display of art, and each scholar spent the past year or semester doing research surrounding this theme—or in Demand’s case, making art about it.

On our visit, Demand greeted us at the door and led us past a makeshift curtain onto the set of a world of paper and cardboard. He showed us his latest project, a reenactment of a short video clip that depicts the reception area of a cruise ship as it is rocked and buffeted about by a storm.

Getty intern Lauren Graycar and artist Thomas Demand

For this piece, Demand completely recreated the scene shown in the video, fabricating the entire set out of paper products.  Then, using stop-motion animation and a team of highly skilled animators and technicians, he filmed his paper version of the film clip, miniscule step by miniscule step.

As Demand led us around the space and showed us each component he used in creating his work, this ostensibly simple project exploded into complexities and intricacies, both of technology and of construction. He and his collaborators had broken this short video down into every visual element—every toppled chair and lemon slice—as well as every millimeter of movement.

To me, one particularly interesting aspect was how they’d worked out objects that, however briefly, defied gravity in the chaos and disorder caused by the rocking of the ship. Demand pointed out a few of the tricks he’d used on different objects in the set: swinging lights suspended diagonally by invisible wires, chairs mid-topple supported by miniature stands hidden from the eye of the camera.

As a piece of art based on a YouTube video, Demand’s film is halfway between the humorous and the serious. It prompts a burst of laughter as you see the contents of a cruise ship topple to and fro, but it also explores the danger and destructive power of natural disasters that have the potential to occur anywhere, at any time. Spontaneous destruction, beautifully and painstakingly re-created.

(Photos by John Kiffe)

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  • By Constructing Realities | Photo Expressions II on September 16, 2013 at 6:13 am

    […] Demand (an article about his work can be found here) he constructs sets entirely out of paper. They are made to look like offices and […]

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      A Chat with Photographer Tomoko Sawada

      A conversation about Japanese matchmaking traditions, self-portraiture, clothes, and identity.

      When did you start photographing yourself?
      I began making self-portraits when I was 19. It was an assignment for a photography class. I can’t even explain in Japanese why I liked them so much. It was instinctual. It’s as if I knew that this was going to be my style, that this is what I wanted to do. And I’m still doing it because I love the self-portrait, but I don’t know why. 

      What themes are you exploring in your work?
      I’m interested in the relationship between inside and outside. If you wear a sexy dress or if you wear kids clothes or casual clothes, people treat you differently. Even though you are you no matter what you wear. It’s that relationship that makes me think. 

      My new work is from when I was living in New York. When I was in New York, people didn’t think I was Japanese. Sometimes they thought I was Korean or Chines or Mongolian. Even Singaporean. It was funny, when I would go to the Japanese market, they would speak to me in English. When I went to the Korean market, they would speak to me in English again. I don’t seem to look Japanese outside of Japan. I was surprised because I think I look totally Japanese. It’s funny that people’s points of view are totally different.

      Could you talk a little about OMIAI, the series that represents a traditional Japanese matchmaking technique.
      OMIAI is a tradition that is somehow still working today. Usually, there is a matchmaker and photographs are exchanged before meeting. If both sides are interested, they can meet for lunch or dinner accompanied by their parents and steps for marriage proceed from there. In the old days, some people chose their marriage partner just through photographs, without even meeting each other. 

      When OMIAI was exhibited in Japan I saw people making various comments in from of the work. People would say things like, “she looks like a good cook; surely she would prepare delicious meals every day,” or “ this girl could be a perfect bride for my son,” or “I can tell she would not be a good housewife,” or “she’s such a graceful girl; she must be the daughter of a decent family.” Comments like that. 

      What was the process of making that work?
      I gained 10 pounds before I started taking the pictures, and in six months I lost forty pounds, because I wanted to look different in each photo. I wanted to change the way my legs looked. 

      Every weekend I went to the hair salon and put on a kimono. Then I went to the photo studio on the street in Japan. I would take a picture and then change my clothes to western dress. Then I would go to the studio again the next weekend. 

      Did you tell the photographer how you wanted it done?
      I told him I was an artist and wanted to make photographs with him. I told him to think that each weekend new girls would show up to make the OMIAI. I didn’t want him to think of me as the same girl who came every weekend. He understood the concept. 

      We had fun. While he was taking pictures, his wife would tell me how to lose weight. She gave me many tips.

      Tomoko Sawada’s work is on view at the Getty until February 21, 2016 in “The Younger Generation: Contemporary Japanese Photography”


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