At first glance, Thomas Demand’s process may not be detectable, but look closer and you’ll realise his intricate scenes are constructed entirely from paper. The starting point is a pre-existing image, often culled from media coverage of a specific event, such as a diving board that nods to the controversial 1936 Olympics in Berlin, or the Russian hotel hideout of American whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In his more recent work, Demand has turned to the everyday – unopened mail or plastic cups for example – offering a personal counterpoint to previous monumental, narrative-heavy works. The process remains the same; an image is reconstructed as a life-size facsimile that is photographed, and then, crucially, destroyed.

Portrait as part of At Home With Thomas Demand interview
Portrait of Thomas Demand. Photography: Brigitte Lacombe. Courtesy Sprüth Magers

The first of two recent books from Demand (both published by Mack) encapsulates his touring retrospective exhibition, on view at UCCA Edge, Shanghai until 4 September 2022. The Stutter of History is an extensive catalogue of his 25-year oeuvre, exploring the representation of history and an image-saturated culture. The second title, Mundo de Papel, co-published with Fundación Botín, is Demand’s most ambitious book project to date, for which he has engineered ingenious paper pop-ups to explore the tension between representation and reality.

Here, as part of our ‘At home with’ interview series, Demand discusses life lessons, life-changing art and more from his Berlin home. 

3D model from the book Mundo de Papel
Mundo de Papel, detail. Courtesy Mack

At Home with Thomas Demand

Wallpaper*: Where are you at the moment and what can you see? 

Thomas Demand: In my house in Berlin, marvelling at how Berlin managed to have Hanami without colour: all trees seem to be blossoming in grey.

W*: What are you reading, and what do you think of it? 

TD: I am trying to read Philippe Descola’s Les formes du visible, but my French is too lousy. Thinking about getting French lessons.

Hanami photograph, Berlin
Courtesy Thomas Demand

W*: If you weren’t an artist, what would you have been?

TD: Formula One driver, I believe.

W*: What bores you?

TD: Cars, football, Zoom meetings.

Marcel Broodthaers artworks on wall
Marcel Broodthaers, Pipe, 1969

W*: Has a work of art ever changed your life?

TD: Yes, Marcel Broodthaers’ plastic plaques, which I saw at a friend’s house when I was 12.

W*: What are you most proud of? 

TD: To have an audience for my efforts.

3D paper model
Mundo de Papel, detail. Courtesy Mack

W*: What have you learnt from success?

TD: To watch carefully how things fly.

W*: What have you learnt from failure? 

TD: To watch carefully how things fall.

W*: Who is your dream collaborator? 

TD: [Japanese architect] Kazuyo Sejima.

Mundo de Papel book detail
Mundo de Papel, detail. Courtesy Mack

W* What one piece of advice would you give? 

TD: To keep the ball low.

W*: Do you keep a notebook or diary?

TD: No diary, but a notebook. I try to draw daily.

W*: How do you switch off? 

TD: Swimming

Blue building under construction at Kvadrat HQ in Denmark
An under-construction pavilion at Kvadrat’s headquarters in Ebeltoft, Denmark, a collaboration with Demand and Caruso St John Architects. Courtesy Thomas Demand

W*: What’s next?

TD: Finishing the three small buildings for Kvadrat in Denmark which I was commissioned for [The Triple Folly]. They are quite far in progress, and we hope over the summer we can add all the small details which I designed as well, such as the door handles, chairs, lights, etc. It is a very special moment for me to see this project completed. §