Over the last few years, the artist Thomas Demand has bounced between Berlin and LA. For the last two years he has also bounced further along to Tokyo to spend time in the offices of the architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, better known as SANAA. Demand watched Sanaa’s studio at work; more specifically, he took pictures of their architectural models, or thought processes, problem solving and utopian urges in paper and cardboard. Taking pictures close up, he created strange abstracts; fragments of ideas of buildings that might never be. The results are currently on display at Sprüth Magers in London in a show titled 'Latent Forms'.
Demand, of course, is known for shooting models of exterior and interior spaces. Normally though they are his own meticulous creations. And they have a back story, loaded with a particular history. Here, they are other somebody else’s models; there is no story and might never be one.
The show has its origins in LA and the small collection of architectural models produced by John Lautner’s studio, now kept at the Getty Museum. Aged, yellowed and fragile, these are models of unreleased projects, dream homes that stayed a dream, or the workings out of such. Demand shot them for his show 'Model Studies', the first series of his works not to be based on his own models, before taking things forward. Wallpaper* spoke to him about the project.
Wallpaper*: This project started out when you found the John Lautner models in LA and started shooting them? Is that right?
Thomas Demand: I was invited to come to LA as a research scholar at the Getty and found in their special collections 12 remaining models by John Lautner. They weren’t made for a client but for inner office communication and that status was interesting to me, as its very different from my own. They are rugged and altered, sometimes the building is missing all together. Mostly paper, small, not made to last. Lautner used to throw most stuff out once a project was completed, and its only because these were never realised that they still exist.
And what was the appeal of them as a subject?
They are not made to sell anything; they are just the testimony of a thought process. I also got very close, as my intention wasn’t really to monumentalise Lautner or make an image of a building. The object and its biography was what I was interested in.
Why were you looking at them?
It was meant to be just a small book, then we decided to make it a show in Nottingham and found a title, 'Model Studies'.
Why did you decide to take the project forward and look for architects still working and producing models?
Sanaa’s practice is really taking the model planning to a very different level; the landscape of models, fragments and out-takes the office is drowned by is like an artist’s studio, and reminded me of my own. Except that I wouldn’t want to photograph the corners and all the crap of my own production.
Why Sanaa? Are they a practice whose work you have followed?
Yes. And because of their use of paper, its fragility and lightness.
And these models are still very much in the speculative problem solving stage?
It’s not even that far, it may become something, maybe not. It’s like in a studio – something will make it, but the same sheet of cardboard might land in the bin. Potentiality.
Do you like them in this nascent stage? Is there an interest in the compromises made or the way the utopian urge gets squashed?
It’s that thinking with models which I like to watch. Again, I am getting very close; it’s not about architecture but about material, abstraction and figuration.