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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      William Pope.L

      Tell us a bit about how and why you became an artist.

      I used to blame my being an artist on my grandmother, but that was my younger self looking for a scapegoat. At one point in undergrad, I had a moment, a crisis where I thought it was my job to save my family and the best way to that was to be a commercial artist—but I had to let go of that. Truth be told, being an artist is something I choose every day. Of course, maybe I choose art because I’m afraid of theater—too much memorizing and being in the moment and shit.

      A lot of your work deals with racial issues—perceptions of “blackness,” “whiteness,” the absurdity of racial prejudices, the violence of it. Why do you address race in your work? Do you think art can be an agent of change?

      I address race in my work ‘cause day-to-day in our country it addresses me. Yes, art can change the world but so can Disney—so there is that. I think the real question is not can art change the world, but can art be changed by the world? Would we allow this?

      Humor, with a touch of the absurd, seems to be an important component in your artistic practice. What role does humor play in your work?

      I like to use humor in my work ‘cause it answers/deals with questions in ways that are very unique. Humor answers questions with an immediacy and creates a productive amnesia of the moment in the receiver—but then the wave recedes, the world floods back in with its pain, confusions, and crush but the humor remains like a perfume or an echo or a kiss inside beneath one’s skin.

      More: Artist William Pope.L on Humor, Race, and God

      From top: Obi Sunt (Production Image from the making of Obi Sunt), 2015, William Pope.L. Courtesy of the Artist © Pope.L; Gans-Nelson fight, from the album ‘Incident to the Gans-Nelson fight’ (Page 40-3), Goldfield, NV, September 3, 1906, William Pope.L. Courtesy of Steve Turner and the Artist; Tour People, 2005, William Pope.L. Courtesy of the Artist © Pope.L; Failure Drawing #301, NYU/Napkin, Rocket Crash, William Pope.L. Courtesy of the Artist © Pope.L.


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