Dust, Laurent Delaye Gallery, London, 15 January – 27 February 1999

The text below is reprinted with permission – all rights reserved



Roy Exley, ‘Mark Dean: Dust’, Untitled 18 (Spring 1999)

Mark Dean is a film connoisseur who likes to re-cycle and re-invent iconic clips of classic film, whether it be Peeping Tom, the original Frankenstein, or film painstakingly excavated from the Imperial War Museum archives. There are traces of the obsessive around Dean’s oeuvre, suggestions of good old English eccentrism – a dying trait. His specialism is the re-invention, the transmutation of definitive celluloid moments into something infinitely more mesmeric. Dean’s video works, in this show at Laurent Delaye, drive themselves into the viewer’s psyche through their insistent repetitions, either rapid or langorous.

Dean’s work is preoccupied with re-working the past so that it can engage the present. Fragments of film, rescued from obsolescence, are melded into quasi-sacred video pieces which become sites of contemplation, the moment turned in on itself again and again in a mesmeric cycle of repetitions. Directly facing the viewer on entering the gallery is a wall-projection of Dean’s video work The End (Mad Max + 90 x 4), 1998. As poignant and riveting as Jim Morrison’s song of the same title, this piece has extracted the final few frames from Mad Max, where we speed down a road towards a seemingly infinite, flat horizon, in those last few moments prior to the fade. Dean not only sends these frames into an endless spasm of repetitions, but has also rotated the horizon through 90 degrees, four times (hence the title). The centre, however, is not quite in register so we witness four distinct lines of broken white road markings moving towards us, leaving a void in the centre of the screen into which our eyes are inexorably drawn, as if hurtling into an endless tunnel- an archetypal SF scenario. The dramatic effect of the final, postapocalyptic moments of Mad Max is magnified by Dean’s interventions, the viewer’s gaze trapped by the involutions of that recurrent moment. Suspended in that instant, reflections well up – where was your life at when you first watched Mad Max?, much in the vein of ‘Where were you when you first heard of Kennedy’s assassination or Diana’s death?: Paradoxically, through his iconoclastic snatching of film fragments, Dean’s re-working re-inforces our past experience of that film, while at the same time hauling it into the present.

In The Transparency of Evil, Jean Baudrillard stated that “A photographic image must have the quality of a universe from which the subject has withdrawn (but must be allowed to reenter).” Mark Dean facilitates these re-entries into this universe through his work. He disempowers the narrative by interrupting its flow, giving the viewer a more objective experience of its armatures- its visual props – so that the abstracted scene becomes a universe of its own which we continually enter, withdraw and re-enter, invoking shades of that hypnagogic state between waking and sleep.

Dean’s New Life (Frankenstein Drawn and Quartered), 1998, is a video piece which is much more torpid in its demeanour, in fact the cyclical, repetitive changes are so muted as to be almost undetectable, as a barely-human countenance evolves and transmutes into a pseudo-beast from hell, only to return again to its former state. Not only are the changes painfully slow, but they are also extremely marginal, it becomes an effort to recall the other materialisation when its opposite is current. Here, Dean transposes two adjacent moments from the original film, during the exhumation scene, accompanied by its eerily grating synthesised sound-track. Untitled (My Way Home+-,resting pulse) has an autobiographical slant, whereby through an autobiographical film by Bill Douglas, Dean superimposes his own autobiographical reflections on the image of a young Douglas, played in the film by Stephen Archibald. Again slowed down so that it hovers between the film-still and its movie, an almost moribund state, this extract suggests that limbo of the hypnagogic state, or, more ominously, that between life and death. A young boy’s head on a pillow appears motionless, time is arrested, but this is a video monitor so let’s wait and see, wait and see, wait, wait, wait and see. Like searching for signs of life on Mars, patience and perspicacity are finally rewarded by what seems to be a faint flush of life. You need plenty of time on your hands to appreciate this show, in which life and death are constant companions, vying with each other across the uncertainties of time.

Dean cleverly plays with and distorts our perception of time: in how many ways can it link life and death? His video work currently showing in Heavier than Air at the Imperial War Museum is taken from film footage from a camera gun in a Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf 190 as it closes in on a U.S. Air Force Boeing B-17, which parallels the feeling of disappearing down a tunnel in the Mad Max piece, in this instance tracer bullets replace road-markings, but the imminence of death still hovers over the scenario. Dean told me of the disquieting hours he spent in the Museum perusing camera-gun footage whose visuals were just as disturbing as watching a never-ending snuff-movie – the horrors of war reduced to celluloid spectacle. Dean’s intelligently wrought pieces are defeated by the peremptory glance but, conversely, intensified and consummated by the prolonged and discerning gaze, their subtlety calls for a patient response, their intentionality only realised and reached through the viewer’s participation.