Disco Maquette reviews

|Art Monthly|

Mark Dean: Disco Maquette
Sketch, London, July 23 – September 11 2004
Ian Hunt
Art Monthly no.279, September 2004

Previous works by Mark Dean have managed to open out towards strong emotions while retaining the distinctive constructedness of visual art. The strong content lives and is transformed rather than functioning as reference pure and simple. Sometimes this depends on a formal element that you can hear but not comprehend. In The Return of Jackie and Judy (+ Joey), 2002, it was a song by the Ramones whose speed had been slowed down and then speeded up, but whose pitch had been corrected to stay true to the original. I did not understand the technical process at the time and was held simply by what I heard. It is important to stress this crafted opening to cathartic possibility and to the unconscious, because Dean has found means here that are primary, not borrowed from the films or music that are his materials.

At Sketch, the projections are repeated on all walls. On one screen, a blond woman, perhaps still a girl, rests her head in a man’s lap. His hand reaches to stroke her hair, his face is not visible. On the other, again seen from a high angle so that we cannot locate the figures clearly, the positions are reversed. Here it is a man, covering his eyes as though to hide whatever feelings may be showing, who rests his head in the lap of a woman whose face we don’t see. To rest your head in another’s lap is a sign of trust but also of emotional abandonment, a wish to be mothered. What desolations or adventures these slowed extracts are part of, however, we are not told. The music, a three-piece punk track, stops and starts: the single lyric is ’53rd and 3rd’. Between the two diagonal compositions in this triptych – Europe on the left, America to the right – is a street at night, coded as American by the steam from a vent. Headlights emerge and the steam is rewound, like explosions in reverse. Intersection (53rd & 3rd x 3), 2003 depicts vulnerability, and a proximity to situations that may be fucked up or unravelling, but the soundtrack, mixed differently three times, offers excitement as a way of framing it or indeed of theming it. It is as though we are offered a protected glimpse of situations that we are not required to fall into.

The other two works shown in ‘Disco Maquette’ were remixes of existing works for the three-projector per wall set-up at Sketch, a ballroom of a gallery in a swanky, event restaurant in the West End. The glamour of the location – properly curated as the gallery itself is proving – found an almost worryingly precise complement in Dean’s projections. One decision proved significant, however. Instead of confining the image to the wall space, the projectors were set at what is called Academy ratio, 4:3, and so spilled over the seating, the exit signs, the doors. By reminding you very definitely of the physical and social facts of the gallery, by playing at not fitting in, Dean ensured his works weren’t assimilable as coolness, as decor, but had to be thought about as art.

He has his own interest in glamour, in stars, of course: the third work Go Together (Grace), 1997/2004, doubles up mirrored footage from To Catch a Thief where Grace Kelly is closing the door on Cary Grant, and also leaning forward to kiss him. The two actions are superimposed in a hypnotic, bouncing action and at a certain point the two Graces resolve into each other. It is a magnificent evocation of love for an image whose condition is that it is fleeting, but also gently and formally comical: she is kissing the door. The central screen similarly involves superimpositions, but is bleaker. The woman speaks, the man, Brando in motorbike gear, is impassive. ‘I wish I was going some place. I wish you were going some place. We could go together.’ The phrases collide, but aren’t going no place, no how. The motorbike as an agent of possible transcendence, of escape, is implied also in I Can’t See (Twisted), 1999/2004. Here the flanking images are themselves doubled up, and show a woman motorbiker in striped crash helmet, flung clear from her machine. The image is rotated so she appears suspended on the earth, as though crucified. Her breathing is progressively quickened to pulse with the quickening strobe of the spinning central image: the op record label that released the song from which we hear a line. The music is accounted as heavy metal, though the category was then young. Overall, you feel excluded from whatever ecstasy may be figured here, the paradox of much religious art.

It is not preference for the underdog that leads so many people in conversation to compare Dean favourably with Douglas Gordon, but a recognition of the qualities of care in the realisation of the work and its very different way with feeling.

|Art Papers|

Disco Maquette
Joel Robinson, Art Papers, January/February 2005

Disco Maquette (July 23 – September 11, 2004) adapts existing video installations by the young British video artist Mark Dean to Gallery Sketch’s space. Curated by Alexandre Pollazon, the exhibition brings together three individual works of triptych-like format, turning them into a suite.

The filmic projections are repeated over the cubic venue’s four walls to create a frieze, with a 4:3 per image (which echoes the Academy of Motion Pictures’ stipulations).

The large-scale projections overrun door moldings and furnishings, underscoring the insolence with which the media have infiltrated today’s built environment. A dematerialization of space ensues, evoking the effect of a reflective ball or strobe in a retro discotheque. Located in the heart of London’s chic Mayfair district, Gallery Sketch was, after all, a ballroom. Mark Dean’s reinstallation of existing works thus takes into consideration the site’s history as well as the broader implications of the moving image.

Putting aside the cinematic dimensions of the 4:3 ratio, the triptychs also inoke Christian traditions in art. I Can’t See (Twisted) 1999, is a case in point. In the right projection a woman lies, duplicated, on the ground in a crucified posture. Her double image is mirrored, and reversed, on the left. What film is this from? We tilt our heads because the scenes have been rotated ninety degrees. It is as if she had just parachuted out of the sky, or been thrown from her motorbike. Her helmet’s black-and-white stripes echo the spiralling patterns of a psychedelically entrancing rotorelief in the central frame.

Little happens in Dean’s work. So little that the images almost come to resemble paintings. If their fragmentary splicing destroys any chance of narrative reconstruction, minimal change or progression is nonetheless implied. In I Can’t See, for instance, the woman’s heartbeat quickens unnaturally with the acceleration of the soundtrack’s tempo until her chest looks as if it were about to burst.

Dean deftly employs sound to underscore and intensify the pace of his images. Like the visual stills, his soundtracks are made up of fragments of popular culture, especially the loud sounds of punk and heavy metal. Remixing debris from the past, fragments whose origins are partially eroded, betrays a desperate need for meaning in postmodern culture.

This appropriative impulse is just as evident in Go Together (Grace), 1997, and Intersection (53rd & 3d), 2003. In the latter, the central panel shows an intersection at night, illuminated by streetlamps and automobile headlights. Is this 53rd & 3rd, or is that just the name of the song ranted by the Ramones copycats in the background? In the lateral projections, men and women lie across each other in a somewhat domestic setting. Eyes shut, they evoke both another kind of crossing and a frustrated togetherness, despite their implied physical intimacy.

Similarly, Go Together (Grace) hones in on encounters between the sexes. Seen from the back, Cary Grant waits before a shut door in the left projection. On the right, Grace Kelly has just opened it, and now faces us. Between them, Marlon Brando, sporting a biker’s jacket, disrupts references to Hitchcock’s 1955 classic To Catch A Thief as do the pathetic lines, ”I wish I was going someplace; we could go together”, punctuating the video.

To be sure, a kind of spiritual forsakenness is manifest in both the works’ arrangements of images and sounds, and their quasi-devotional tripartite structures. Feelings of despair continuously disrupt the spectacle of Disco Maquette – a study from which the artist might explore the environmental conditions or architectural possibilities of his media. Beyond the contingencies of his video-jockey antics, however, Dean seems to forget that Hollywood celebrities and teenage bands are not everyone’s religion.


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