2 Herald St, London, E2 6JT
Herald St is pleased to announce Jungle is Massive, Michael Dean’s fifth solo exhibition with the gallery. For this presentation, Dean has transformed the gallery’s East London premises into an enwildened enclosure, amok with pandas, trees, and leaves composed of concrete, rebar, and books soaked in green dye. On entering the space the viewer is met with silent sculptures of a monochrome chalky and calciferous texture, and walking around them reveals a flattened surface loudly scrawled in Dean’s idiosyncratic writing. This new body of work manifests the artist’s ongoing ardour for language, with a renewed interest in nature as an increasing global concern.
At the root of Dean’s work is text. Jungle is Massive originates from an experimentation with the ‘natural semiotics’ of animal markings, transfiguring these into letters and words. Spelt out in coloured concrete poured from a broken bottle, the sculptures read SLOW GUNS / LIES, HAPPY END, GOOD LIES GOOD BYES BAD LIES BAD BYES, LOVED NOW THEN / HATE – the letters imitate patchy fur and leafy shoots layered upon each other, lying organically rather than linearly in place. Referencing Roland Barthes’ essay ‘From Work to Text’ (1977), Dean invites viewers to approach his work as Barthes does his notion of Text – with intention, to interact and play with their reading, as one would play an instrument. In this vein, the exhibition will be accompanied by Bear Threads in Ffffucksake Major, a string quartet in four parts orchestrated by the artist. This ephemeral performance introduces a new sensation to the sculptures, as violins, a viola, and a cello are rubbed against their surfaces to excavate sound, resulting in the destruction of the instruments.
Dean grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne, in England’s industrial north. His urban upbringing deeply informs his work, as evidenced in his use of concrete, caution tape, coke cans, and other relics of the street. Nature may at first seem opposite to these materials, yet it is a theme the artist has returned to throughout his career, most recently in his 2021 exhibition in Seoul, Garden of Delete. Dean’s Ilford studio opens onto a large back garden in which sculptures and fragments rest among weeds and wildflowers, gently surrendering to the untamed vegetation and forming manmade (and man-touched) geological layers. Similarly, the surfaces of the concrete sculptures in the present exhibition evoke calcium deposits or moraines, as if they have fallen off a cliff-face. Dean values nature for its ‘phenomenological fatherless’ – its place at the origin of all things, and its ‘hyper- author’ potential for growth in every direction. While he ascribes resilience and power to his subject, the artist also draws attention to its imminent danger and looming disappearance. In discussing his latest output, Dean quotes a colleague who recently told him: ‘If your work doesn’t have reference to global warming, then it’s science fiction.’
Ever-present in Dean’s work are elements of street and mainstream culture: the exhibition title invoking M-Beat and General Levy’s 1994 Jungle anthem, the crossed house formed by pages on the wall a nod to a popular pub game, and sneezing pandas as a YouTube sensation during dark pandemic days. One of his publications produced for the show is bookended by paw prints composed of recycling symbols ubiquitous on public bins, centred by a heart – a call from the artist to ‘recycle love’. Alongside the wild gathering of sculptures is a sole canvas, left untouched except for a smattering of kisses in green lipstick. Resembling a stem of leaves, the smudges spell out the word ‘care’, reminding us of the precariousness of this roaring nature.
Text by Émilie Streiff