The aesthetics of absence
Crain, Sarah Danielle Nousiainen
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This dissertation takes as its subject the nature and the limits of the relationship between history and representation as it appears in select works by three contemporary German artists: Mariele Neudecker, Thomas Demand, and Gregor Schneider. In strictly formal terms, the bodies of work under consideration here appear to have little in common with one another as they vary dramatically in medium as well as scale. Neudecker, in the works for which she is best known, crafts diminutive landscapes out of fiberglass, then places them in tabletop glass tanks filled with watery solutions that mimic atmospheric effects. Demand creates life-size buildings, rooms, and objects entirely out of paper and exhibits them as large-scale photographs. Schneider’s most renowned work is also architecturally oriented: using ordinary construction materials, he builds one portion of a house after another—a bedroom, a kitchen, a staircase, for example—and invites spectators to wander through and explore the seemingly banal domestic spaces. Despite these formal differences, Neudecker, Demand, and Schneider do share a great deal with regard to cultural background, creative processes, and recurrent thematic choices: each, for example, was born in Germany in the 1960s and each turns repeatedly to discrete chapters of German history for subject matter. Moreover, Neudecker, Demand, and Schneider engage their nation’s history in such a way that each of their projects amounts to a veritable reconstruction of the past. Additionally, by virtue of an unwavering determination to extract all human figures from their compositions, a striking sense of absence emerges as a conspicuous presence in all three oeuvres.