Melancholic beauty of the everyday

What to me looks as if a play of drama tainted with melancholy and its acting ensemble consisting of the most mundane every-day objects playing their designated parts faithfully without upstaging the other members.  In fact Thomas Demand does not at all demand or even intentionally command such a moody reading.  These photographs are telling stories with open-narratives that leave the audience to entertain the possible mysteries or to simply contemplate the absurdity in the every-day simplicity.  These images of stringent yet simple compositions of objects are so ordinary that we all have seen at one time or another but they are easily forgotten.  The trick of human memory is that it is almost never precisely accurate, it does not tell the truth but rather it is a carefully constructed veil concealing the truth.  Currently on view until January 18th in Matthew Marks the gallery presents Thomas Demand: Dailies.

Thomas Demand
Daily #3, 2008
Framed dye transfer print
80 x 77 cm
Image: Matthew Marks Gallery
These photographs present constructed memories of a time and space recorded and then stored away.  Using images taken from his personal cell-phone, Demand pieces together these objects and constructs narratives that are both intriguing yet blatantly boring.  When I say "boring", I don't mean they are uninteresting, on the contrary because they look non-performative and seemingly stale, they make me want to dig deeper as to ask why I think they are melancholy.  Consequently, the specific readings of the photographs has more to do with the beholder than the images themselves.  From looking at the images, there is a sense of distance from the personal on the artist part.  He does not at all point to anything specific, he puts it all on the table and lets you, his audience to random select their meanings.   

Thomas Demand
Daily #7, 2008
Framed dye transfer print
83 x 77 cm
Image: Matthew Marks Gallery
These images prompt various readings and take on different meanings is the result of his method of tautology that Demand implements in these works.  The repetitiveness resides in this process of which involves the initial visual discovery of the objects existing in their given conditions and physical environment, the "reconstruction" of the scenes and the digital cell-phone documentations of the objects and the environment thus establishes a different scenario with each sighting.  Whenever one takes a photograph of a given moment, instantly it is an act of attempting to preserve a certain frame of time.  As the moment passes, it becomes a memory and no longer exists in the present.  Vicariously, its original circumstance and initial purpose is removed by the fact that we now identify them from a document, a second-hand recount.  This process inevitably opens up doors to uncertainty and becomes a process of investigating the "truth" through uncertainty or an investigation based on memory.  Since these objects are every-day objects and these scenes are taking places under mundane circumstances, therefore Demand leaves to the collective memory of the public (his audience) to bring forth various meanings and significances.

Thomas Demand
Daily #13, 2011
Framed dye transfer print
61 x 69 cm
Image: Matthew Marks Gallery
When I mentioned  "reconstruction", I am pointing to the "flaws" in the objects that I am observing.  Take these plates (see image above) for example, instead of evenly rounded contours the edges appear as if rough paper cut-outs.  From studying the thickness of each plate, it bears visual resemblance to a heavy-stock card-board.  If you are not convinced, look at the center of the top plate, there are two rings and the inner circular shape separates from the inner rim of the plate as of just another circle sitting inside of a bigger one.  There is no visual evidence of a smooth surface integration between the outer rim and inner part of the plate.  Despite that the circular red band is interrupting a part of the connecting point between the two parts, this placement does not prevent you from seeing that the plates are rather artificially made and that they are not real ceramic plates.  This realization confirms once again, a method of tautology is at play.  Now we have something else on our plate. 

Thomas Demand
Daily #12, 2009
Framed dye transfer print
81 x 80 cm
Image: Matthew Marks Gallery

If the "reconstruction" is confirmed, and the photographic documentation with the use of his cell-phone is clearly mentioned (see gallery press release), then it is safe to conclude that what we are looking at is a copy of a copy and thereby the subject within the frame is another copy of a copy of a copy.  This might read a little confusing when in fact the case could be explained quite straight-forwardly.  If we look at Daily #12, one of my favorite images of the whole exhibition, we see that if the whole scene is reconstructed with artificial materials based on a human memory of the actual objects then this gives birth to the first copy of the original.  The second copy is the photo-documentation of the copy as I just explained.  The last copy is the framed photograph that presents the copies of a human memory and of a cell-phone photographic memory.  Meanwhile it is quite fun when I try to take apart the "copies" yet, I think what matters the most about these works is why I am so drawn to them. The melancholic ambiguousness of the closed door and the forbidden red card hanging on the handle suggest to me a sense of secrecy.  A secret that may never be accessible to my rationality but perhaps makes more sense to my irrationality. 

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