Abstract

Thomas Demand's Dailies (2008–) are visual aperçus, yet often they trigger a sense of déjà vu, and this paradoxical combination of the fresh and the familiar is typical of Demand. “The images that come to me,” he tells Alexander Kluge in an extraordinary conversation, “some are very banal, others greatly laden with meaning, but actually they are all things I know.” And we know them too, or think we do. In part, this is because Demand builds his images from prior representations, such as news photos, postcards, and iPhone snaps. Yet this doubling is not performed in the interest of a postmodernist critique of reality as a construct. Demand treats the photographic mediation of the world as a given, and he assumes that we do as well; his project is less to demystify the real than to remodel and reimage it. His art is indicative of a cultural shift in the perceived relation between representations and referents, one in which the old opposition between the indexical and the constructed becomes less relevant. In a world in which almost every image is both photographic and contrived, the indexical aspect of the medium does not automatically trump its other aspects: We no longer assume the truth-value of the photographic image, and we are alert to its fictive capabilities. In this condition a new realism becomes necessary, one that uses artifice to make reality real again—that is, sensible, credible, or simply effective as such. Demand is a key figure in this new art of artifice in the service of reality.

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