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Thomas Demand: Presidency

The artist presents a series of photographs depicting the Oval Office of the White House

Who lives in a house like this? That’s the question posed by Thomas Demand in his latest work, a series of photographs depicting the Oval Office of the White House, Washington D.C.

Demand’s photographs have never been quite what they seem, and this series continues his preoccupation with blurring boundaries between the real and unreal.

The set was meticulously constructed from cardboard, paper and confetti. It is devoid of humanity; and certain details, like the stars of the American flag, are oddly missing, creating an unnerving atmosphere.

[Music – Star-spangled Banner] I’m Thomas Demand, and I’m installing a show right here, which is a set of five pieces – five photographs of a space which I built out of cardboard in life-size in the last two months – and it depicts a place we all know very well, which is the Oval Office in the White House in the States. However, of course, it is not the White House and it is not the Oval Office; it’s a sculpture I made of my idea and my understanding of the place which we all know quite well from film and press and media and The West Wing and all other kind of replications of that powerful space. It’s all made entirely of cardboard. The carpet is confetti. This is not Madame Tussauds, obviously. It kind of really stops in front of any detail; you know, like for instance the flag doesn’t have any stars on it. You know, there’s no writing on the papers, which would of course be easy to do. I’m really trying to translate it into something which I find valid as a sculpture, or like, as a thing, as an object which has its own beauty or something. But what I am aiming for is basically the point where you just can recognize this place as a place, but also see something about the place which you haven’t seen before. So somehow I’m trying to kind of lurch into your subconscious library of images, basically, and like fill it up with more detail, like the curtain – you know, the shininess of the golden curtain – or like the eagles on the top of the flagpoles or something. So I always try to stop when it gets too much about how it really is or something. I’m really not interested in how it is; I’m really interested in how you think it would be. Every president, you realize that every president has a different interior designer, which is mostly the wife, so the old Bush, Bush Senior, had a completely different setup which was a bit more tasteful, I think, than the current one. But then, you know, Clinton is also not beyond criticism, because his interior design was very pompous and very much about power and representation; but he had a dark carpet which I kind of find very good. And then I took the curtains from George W. Bush Junior, and I, you know, like I just put a few elements of Reagan in there, like the parquetry. So I kind of basically made a hybrid of the place rather than a portrait of one president’s office. So here you see like the fireplace, basically. Fireplace, quite enigmatic, and I… you know, like when the Pope visited George W, he would for instance sit in front of the fireplace. We have a view from underneath the chair, the master’s chair. It’s kind of about power, somehow, but it’s also, it seems to be like, again, being in an impossible situation of photographing the place as it would be if you visit the President of the United States. My life is kind of at least equally influenced by pictures of things, as it is in things, like we have… we know what’s nice because we saw it in a magazine, or we know who is a good man because we have seen him on TV, or like… you know, like all these kind of things we make a lot of decisions about our life and what we want and who we are, and where we want to go, from pictures. And I find this, as an artist, enormously interesting, because I work with pictures all the time as an artist. [Music] Release date in this format: 18/12/2009.

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