20.11.2009 – 31.01.2010
Yannick Demmerle
L’ours, la mort, et les arbres foudroyés
Solo exhibition at Arndt & Partner, Berlin

Press Release

Yannick Demmerle has made a name for himself with his entrancing, large-scale photographs of forests, lakes and wild-animal cages. His third solo exhibition with Arndt & Partner includes a selection of photographs from the last seven years and a series of recent pencil drawings. The show is tailored to reveal the experimental diversity of photographic techniques Demmerle uses to present his subjects. At the same time, it traces the remarkably consistent lines along which his oeuvre has developed – from the austere, geometric and symmetric compositions of his early photographs of forests and animal cages to unearthly night shots of woods and surreal negative-colour images of motel rooms, and, finally, to his recent drawings depicting grotesque hybrids of humans and animals and of decomposing and living creatures. While Demmerle’s early images subtly hint at his interest in the fantastic, irrational and dark, these aspects increasingly come to the fore in his later work.
Demmerle creates his images using an 8x10-inch large-format camera, which provides the greatest possible sharpness and depth of focus. He thus attains a maximum degree of realism in his early photographs, such as Sans Titre (2002) and Sans Titre (Gewitter im Wald) (2004), both taken in the Schorfheide nature reserve near Berlin. Yet Demmerle is not interested in documenting reality – nor is he aiming to create a dreamy idyll. As Peter Herbstreuth has remarked, Demmerle doesn’t depict nature as untamed and wild, but as domesticated and governed by the principles of geometry and symmetry. „[There is] no distance, vastness, paths, or any signs of culture, and seldom a horizon. Instead, what rules is regularity, symmetry, rhythmic echelons, rows, or golden sections – the harmony of classical image architecture.“ Thus Demmerle subtly alludes to how our subjugation of nature has shaped the face of the Schorfheide region – a wooded area that was deforested and reforested repeatedly over the centuries and that has only been protected as a nature reserve since 1990.
Demmerle applied the same visual principles to his photographs of predator cages taken in zoos in Berlin and Dresden between 2000 and 2003. The neutral, frontal perspective, the strict composition and the sharp contours intensify the cramped, confined, controlled nature of the spaces to the point that they seem to close in on the viewer, creating an oppressive sense of being trapped – despite, or perhaps precisely because of the fact that the wild animals these dismal cages were built to house are absent.
Similarly, for all their beauty, there is always something unsettling about Demmerle’s landscapes – a sense of disquiet that is conveyed not so much by the tress themselves as by the spaces between them. „I spend my time trying to photograph the invisible between the trees, for example fear ... The tree itself does not interest me.“ says Demmerle. In Les Nuits Étranges, a series of photographs of nocturnal forests from the year 2004, this sense of unease is even more acute. Eerily illuminated by an invisible light source, individual tree trunks emerge from the black depths like pale, silvery ghosts. The darkness of this menacing forest attains a fantastic, almost “uncanny” quality, alluding to the forest as a metaphor for our repressed subconscious, as it frequently appears in fairy tales, for example.
While most of Europe’s forests are today no longer menacing in a life-threatening sense, the millenniums-old forests of Tasmania harbour countless deadly hazards and dangers. And yet Demmerle has repeatedly risked life and limb by hiking through the wilds for weeks on end, accompanied only by his bulky camera equipment. The photographs he creates in the solitude of this remote wilderness reveal nature at its most frightening, much as German landscape painting in the Romantic era did. But while the Romantic painters always included an element of civilisation in their pictures – a ruin, a path, a human being – and depicted their motif from a distance and with a visible horizon, Demmerle closes in on his subjects to the point that no escape is possible. There is no horizon and no living creatures to be seen in these images, which reveal a wilderness that is merciless, alien and menacing in its sheer unbridled force.
In the pencil drawings Demmerle produced in Tasmania in 2009, we encounter the forest creatures and inhabitants that are so conspicuously absent in the photographs. Demmerle’s view of the reality of the forest is manifested much more subjectively here. His fantastic, at times monstrous hybrids of humans, animals and insects, of animal cadavers and plants represent Demmerle’s attempt to appropriate the never-ending cycle of nature, in which decaying matter gives birth to new life. At the same time, the drawings convey an impression of the artist’s desire to break out of the rigid restraints imposed by life in the wilderness and to escape into a realm where he is free to play with manifestations of the surreal and the irrational.

Text: Kristin Rieber

Yannick Demmerle, born in 1969 in Sarreguemines, France, studied at the École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, Strasbourg. After having resided in Germany for a few years, he now lives and works in Tasmania.
Demmerle had been included to several group exhibitions such as the ICP Triennial of Photography and Video at the International Center of Photography, New York and the 2. Internationalen Fotofestival in Mannheim, Ludwigshafen and Heidelberg. In 2005 the Leonhardi Museum in Dresden, the Sint-Lukasgalerie in Brussels and the Kunstverein Lingen, Germany dedicated him a solo show.