Installation view of “Having you on,” BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, England, 2018.
 Photo: Jonty Wilde, Courtesy the artist and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

Into Cacophony: A Conversation with Michael Dean

Michael Dean’s work begins with words—his own writing, found phrases, nonsensical fragments, and repetitions—which he alters and twists into personalized typographies, then translates into forms in space. The sculptures that give flesh to his texts are as raw, streetwise, and mutable as the words themselves, rooted in his Newcastle-upon-Tyne upbringing and later years in London. Created from ordinary sheet metal, MDF, padlocks, soil, sand, and lots of concrete, they project an urgency to communicate with whatever is at hand. From human-scale “glyphs” to handmade books of pictogram lettering and diagrammatic constructions of signs and memories, Dean’s works are equal parts verbal outpouring and physical gesture. Though they aren’t meant to be read, within the “physical-linguistic” space of his installations, his sculptures, tensed between clarity and abstraction, act like words in a sentence—playful, tangential, occasionally absurd, and always subject to experience and interpretation—generating meaning through interaction.

Robert Preece: How did you develop the form for (Unfuckingtitled) Lol (2017)? What is the relationship between text and sculpture?
Michael Dean: I need to clarify that, for me, “text” is the experience of the reader/viewer on encountering the written. Exhibitions are publications, sculptures are writing the physical glyphs, the installation is the text. All of my work has its origin in a typographical attempt to spell out a word or a letter in space. . .

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