The Beginning of The End

The Beginning of the End, Beaconsfield, London, 24 Nov 2010 – 27 Feb 2011

The texts below are reprinted with permission – all rights reserved


Naomi Siderfin, ‘Mark Dean: The Beginning of the End?’, catalogue essay, 2010



Rachel Withers, ‘Mark Dean, Beaconsfield’, Artforum, April 2011 

The phrase “Christian disco” might trigger cringe-making thoughts of buttoned-up adolescent parties monitored by censorious adults and lubricated with fizzy drinks and Cliff Richard hits; but that scenario couldn’t be further from Mark Dean’s grimly impressive video installation Christian Disco (Terminator), 2010. Crafted from a three-second fragment of the 1984 film The Terminator, it shows a young man and woman dancing in a disco, but, characteristically, Dean’s edit desynchronizes and loops the footage, distorting its colors and corrupting the outlines of the swaying bodies. Luridly hued skeletal afterimages trail behind the dancers, occasionally catching up with them and sketching skulls onto their youthful, unconcerned faces.

The work’s sound track cannibalizes the movie’s theme music with its clanging bells and driving beat, and stitches onto it two voices, one male and one female, recorded from a Holocaust Memorial Day service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. “Here ends the first lesson,” “here ends the second lesson,” they intone somberly, but Dean’s piece offers no lesson. Projected onto a large screen in Beaconsfield’s cavernous brick railway arch, it suggests both a gigantic danse macabre and hallucinatory video decor for a rave whose music plays on but whose celebrants have mysteriously disappeared. Hints of motifs from the Western Christian repertoire—apocalypse scenes or the horror-pornography of vanitas images—are grafted onto contemporary existential and political anxieties: nuclear proliferation, survivalism, or the effects of spectacular, hedonistic-escapist industrialized entertainment (such as the Christian derived Terminator narratives, or images of present-day clubbing and drug use). The viewer is left in the grip of contradictory urges: to saturate oneself in the hypnotic ambience, and to get the hell out as fast as possible.

The other large video installation in this survey of two decades of Dean’s work similarly attracts and repels. Love Missile (7″ vs 12″), 2010, features two recordings of manufactured punk band Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s single of the same name (with its calculatedly offensive “shoot it up” refrain), phased so they pass in and out of sync. The audio component accompanies a ten-foot-high video projection of a human silhouette, haloed by a sparkling golden aura suggestive of rock-concert stage lighting or a rocket’s tail (in fact, it shows a streetlight reflected on water). Two smaller monitors screen vinyl-recordshaped images of warships launching cruise missiles (these last are “deleted” with white strips, rendering them crucifixes). On paper, this conflation of rock, religion, warfare, and phallic imagery might sound rote, but the work itself is challenging and ambivalent. The doubled musical track generates slurs and echoes that lend it a peculiar depth. And the projected figure is likewise doubled so that its outlines never coincide. Ultimately, the work seems to embody impossible desires for psychical unity or transcendence—but though it signals the horror that can issue from the playing-out of such desires in real life, it doesn’t trivialize them.

Beaconsfield’s survey—timely, excellently curated by David Crawforth and Naomi Siderfin, and a big achievement for a small nonprofit team— also included a “video jukebox” screening thirty-six of Dean’s videos plus the artist’s written commentary on each. Briefly alluded to is the artist’s childhood experience of rape, a shocking detail that suggests a searing therapeutic dimension in certain works. Goin’ Back (The Birds/The Byrds x 32 + 1), 1997, manipulates Hitchcock footage of a bloodied, collapsed Tippi Hedren, shifting her back and forth from wide-eyed dreamy repose to terror as she fights off Hitchcock’s attacking lens. On the sound track a repeated line from a pretty Byrds tune sings of “going back,” a paradoxically soothing reference to, in Dean’s words, “the recovery of traumatic memory.” Hedren becomes a surrogate for the artist in a nuanced and moving moment of cross-gender identification.


Eliza Williams, ‘Mark Dean: The Beginning of The End’, Art Monthly no 343, February 2011

Beaconsfield’s dank, voluminous lower gallery space, housed beneath a railway arch, provides the perfect setting for Christian Disco (Terminator), 2010, a new video installation by Mark Dean. The film takes a tiny, fairly innocuous section from the 1984 blockbuster movie Terminator and repositions it as a scene imbued with apocalyptic fervour. It is not a recognisable moment from the film – Arnie’s relentless cyborg is nowhere to be seen – but instead a largely forgettable three-second clip showing a group of men and women dancing. Dean has drenched the figures in intense reds and blues – suggestive of psychedelia as well as modern surveillance techniques such as infrared imaging – and configured the clip to endlessly repeat. It is set to a soundtrack that mixes a section of the original Terminator score, which builds to a crushing crescendo, with two looped audio recordings snipped from the end of Bible readings on Holocaust Memorial Day. The piece is filled with a terrible foreboding, enhanced by the musty atmosphere, yet is utterly compelling.

A companion piece can be found in the upstairs space. Love Missile (7” vs 12”), 2010, combines a central film of a man silhouetted in late-afternoon sunlight with still photographs of Cruise missiles in flight, displayed on small monitors. Dean has modified these photos so the rockets appear like tiny crosses being launched into the bright blue skies. The missile theme is then picked up in the work’s soundtrack which, as its title suggests, is a mix of two versions of new-wave band Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s first single.

The exuberant music is at odds with the transcendent imagery of the central figure, giving the work a wittiness that undercuts its spiritual overtones. This playful mixing of seemingly contradictory emotions is a recurring theme in Dean’s work. It can be seen in his first successful video piece, which is also on show at Beaconsfield as part of an archive of 36 earlier single-screen works by the artist, available for visitors to browse through in the gallery’s café. Love Love Love, 1992, launched Dean’s career after it was exhibited in the Riverside Open in 1992, and went on to be featured in the New Contemporaries exhibition of 1993. The film combines home movie footage of Dean’s own childhood with occasional musical blasts of the word ‘love’. The different iterations of the word have been purloined by Dean from pop songs, though they sound eerie and strange away from their original context.

Love Love Love is an early demonstration of Dean’s knack of appropriating existing imagery and blending it with unexpected music or other film footage to create new works entirely separate from the origins of their component parts. These pieces are far removed from the largely humour-based mash-ups of film imagery that litter the internet, and are different too from the works of Douglas Gordon and Christian Marclay, who are also renowned for their manipulation of found imagery. The history and narratives of the original works form layers within Dean’s art pieces, but then take on a new significance or energy that is often personal to the artist.

The effect can be seen in another new piece at Beaconsfield, which combines footage of Sid Vicious with a soundtrack by Syd Barrett. Vicious is sitting slumped with his eyes closed while Barrett sings the song Two of a Kind, which features the refrain ‘open your eyes and don’t be blind, can’t you see we’re two of a kind’. The light, hopeful tone of the song is diminished by knowledge of the musicians’ tragic outcomes and the work seems a counterpoint to an earlier piece by Dean, which features footage of Tippi Hedren returning to consciousness in the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds while being serenaded by 1960’s band the Byrds.

Dean was recently ordained as a Church of England minister, and religious imagery and ideas have run through his work since the mid 1990’s. As Dan Graham observed in his film work Rock My Religion, 1982-82, the urgency of religious feeling can often be found in music, or in art, and it is tempting to assume that Dean sees a unity between his religion and his art. In the exhibition notes, though, Dean explicitly rejects this, stating that, for him, religion and contemporary art adopt different languages. And it indeed seems uncomfortable to describe his work as ‘religious art’, for while the theme is certainly present, it isn’t overwhelming or in any way evangelical. Instead, religion seems but one aspect of Dean’s work, albeit a dominant one, and part of a larger philosophical exploration that also draws fragments from music and film in the creation of ambiguous, poetic works.

Eliza Williams is a writer and critic based in London