Michael Dean was born in 1977 in Newcastle Upon Tyne and lives and works in London. In 2016, Dean was nominated for the Turner Prize, and in 2017 exhibited as part of the fifth edition of Skulptur Projekte, Münster. In 2018, Dean has solo shows at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, and ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai. Recent solo exhibitions include Portikus, Frankfurt; Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas; South London Gallery, London; Fondazione Giuliani, Rome; and De Appel Arts Centre, Amsterdam.
‘Writing has always been the first and last thing I do and always by hand, not computer, as it’s a very specific thing to have something inside and make it manifest’. Michael Dean
Michael Dean’s practice fuses two artistic disciplines – writing and sculpture – into a multi-layered language of signs, gestures and textures that appear inviting and accessible, without necessarily being legible. Dean’s sculptures avoid any monumentality, whether they’re presented in a white cube gallery or in public space. The artist works on a human scale, using democratic and inexpensive materials such as fast-setting cement, MDF boards, steel, corrugated metal sheets, plastic bags, and paper. At times, casts of human limbs involved in gestural and vocal communication, such as tongues and fists, can be seen emerging from their sculptures which always spell out letters and words.
Dean’s books on the other hand have a sculptural quality to them and are used as raw materials in interactive installations. Their pages appear are another playing field in which the artist experiments with the act of spelling out forms and meanings without producing coherent narratives. Dean has previously invited exhibition visitors to tear out pages of these books, permitting them to touch, feel, and destroy the works’ physical presence. Their books have also been sculpturally transformed and suspended from lampposts in public streets and squares, combined with elaborate hangings of single pages that examine the sculptural possibilities of printed typography and handwritten ink. Recently, Dean’s exhibitions have included modified quotidian objects like soda cans, scene tape and advertisement stickers, in which the artist’s writing appears in the familiar typesets commonly found on these objects’ surfaces.
The social and political dimensions of Michael Dean’s work translate into their radical approachability, which rejects blue-chip aesthetics and luxurious production processes and refuses to be reducible to a precious commodity form. This critical insistence upon making art from affordable materials is perhaps most literally visible in their 2016 work (United Kingdom poverty line for two adults and two children: twenty thousand four hundred and thirty six pounds sterling as published on 1st September 2016) which consists of £20,436 in pennies and equals the amount of money the government claims is the minimum that a family of two adults and two children requires to survive for a year in the UK. In addition to their economical materiality, Dean’s sculptures and books expose the politics of language through their dual existence as both things and signs able to generate new meanings that don’t correspond with their material existence.
Their physical presence as ambiguous written objects allows them to be recognised as language without being fully understood. Through their cryptic and poetic appearance Dean’s works resist being appropriated as shallow political slogans and thus testify to the artist’s open refusal to be turned into ‘a poster child for some f***ing poor kid’.