Nick Hackworth

Thomas Demand, Serpentine Gallery

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

Freud’s concept of the “uncanny” is often wheeled out by contemporary artists, usually to spice up dull paintings of domestic scenes or to justify the production of sculptures of oversized kitchen utensils.

At its core is the observation that it is the things with which we are most familiar that hold the greatest potential to frighten us, not the exotic and the unknown. We repress the essential strangeness of the places, people and objects that surround us, and when some change reveals their true nature, our whole world is thrown out of kilter.

German artist Thomas Demand is a master of the uncanny. Hung around the Serpentine Gallery are large, shiny photographs of uninhabited places — the interior of a kitchen or a bedroom, a garage, a corporate boardroom, a recording studio. A level of artificiality is evident: from first contact, the images look too clean, too perfect in places. But their precise nature is unclear until close inspection reveals them to be high-format images of models, though even then it’s not obvious that these are photographs of life-size recreations made from coloured paper and cardboard. With impressive craftsmanship Demand, 42, creates his own version of a reality.

Deliberately confusing the issue of the real, Demand often takes as his subject scenes culled from the media. In the central gallery is presented a suite of images, Klause Tavern: an ordinary German house, with ivy creeping around windows and streamers hanging from the lights of a well-ordered kitchen.

Even without the knowledge that the house, familiar to Germans from media coverage, was the location of a notorious a crime, the works exemplify the uncanny. There’s a lack of clear threat but there is still an underlying unease. The implications float around that our version of reality is always vulnerable, whether it be the world presented to us, or that shown to us by our senses.

Until 20 August. Information: 020 7402 6075.