Dean Cross

Sydney-based artist Dean Cross uses his background in dance to consider how the audience views his works, which reflects Australia at its most raw and unfiltered. His latest exhibition ‘A Sullen Perfume’ at Yavuz Gallery explores temporal reactions to everyday life. In the works, Cross engages with painting, wallpaper and readymade objects (such as the jetty can donated by Tony Albert), even employing the same green hue from the roller doors opposite the gallery. In doing this, he responds to the outside world, a circuit that is currently getting smaller and smaller for many.

Let’s start with ‘A Sullen Perfume’, can you tell me about some of the artworks and how they come together? What is the meaning behind the name of the exhibition?
‘A Sullen Perfume’ is my newest solo exhibition and my first with Yavuz Gallery. It’s a collection of mostly paintings – although I use that term loosely. The works in the show apply a level of parataxis as a strategy to bring multiple ideas together in one space.

The title doesn’t have a ‘meaning’ as such, but it is more a marker or indicator of what to expect. It is a way to plant an idea in the viewer – to colour their perception of the show as a whole.

Given your background in dance and performance, I’m interested in whether I WILL NEVER DANCE AGAIN is linked to your personal narrative…
The short answer is both yes, and no. (One of the greatest gifts of being an artist is the right to exercise contrariness!) The painting is not so much about me, but more about what kind of terrible world it is/would be if someone were to say that and mean it. I think it’s important to remember this show was crystallized during the worst of our summer fires, following a prolonged drought. It was certainly not the summer of a Ken Done painting.

Could you explain how you use your background in dance to consider the movement of the audience?
My choreographic brain still fires when I am making work in the studio and building shows for an exhibition. I often think about the physicality of the viewer and how to move them through space. Also, I think about the ways the viewer’s body will interact with individual works and how that then relates to all of the works in the show. I am trying to push people around, to get them to look closely at some things and look from afar at others. I am working with the peripheral vision and how that impacts the reading of work and how the body will follow the eyes. I think that is what curators do though, so I am not breaking any new ground!

Can you tell me more about the wallpaper installation, Chariot, which features a larger-than-life Ford Laser in flames, the painting balanced on the jerry can in front of it?
The car holds a fascinating socio-cultural place in my mind. When the car was invented, so to were car crashes. It is both an instrument of liberation and a bringer of death. Somehow, with the fires burning Country, that felt relevant and necessary to show. The Ford, in particular, points directly to mass production and the trickle-down of global economic inequality that follows the employee/employer relationship. Henry Ford was incredibly wealthy, but find me one factory worker building cars who could say the same.

It’s important to think not just about the image of the car I have used, but it’s medium also. It is printed as a wallpaper; it is there as a looming presence, but also only as a surface. Something there but not there – an obvious visual pun when its scale is considered. The wallpaper is 7 metres long, much larger than ‘real’ life. I figured people love cars, so they might also love a really big car on fire.

I’d love to hear more about the fluidity of your practice. Could you explain how pieces cross over into different artworks?
I like to think that artworks are like people; always changing and growing, never fixed. It makes them more exciting to me. So, following from that, I enjoy re-presenting ‘old’ works in new contexts – collapsing what were once considered individual artworks into new ones, folding them together, entwining their individual narratives. More broadly collage, assemblage and accumulative sculpture appear frequently in my work. I get excited about the third space that emerges between two things, and how that gets more and more complicated as more and more elements are added. It might have something to do with Pi and that I also love Apple Pies.

It’s been mentioned that you’re inspired by wide-ranging sources, such as Baudelaire to HAIR the Musical. How do these come together?
Yes, that is true. I am a big fan of both – and returning to your first question about the title; it is HAIR and Baudelaire in equal measures. In his poem Elevation Baudelaire describes life on earth as ‘this baneful miasma’ (via a William Aggeler translation), and remembering that this show was built in the lead up to and during this last summer where our daily life was cloaked in the sometimes acrid smell of large-scale bushfire, it felt appropriate. But that already feels too reductive.

Your artworks are often centred on an Australian narrative. What are the main drivers behind the subject matter? How do you approach themes of toxic masculinity that are intrinsically linked to this narrative?
It is true a lot of my work deals with Australian myths and a questioning of their relevance – although I feel them to be more global than Australian, or more specifically, shared stories across all First People still living in Colonial country. It is not so much the Australianness that interests, but how these narratives operate to perpetuate power relationships. As for ‘toxic masculinity’, I don’t feel that it is something I have approached within my work. If we are considering colonialism, and the colonial project, to be synonymous with toxic masculinity, then I deal with it, but it is not something that I think about in my work directly.

You mentioned you use YouTube in your research. Could you explain how this impacts your practice?
I use Youtube a lot as a resource. It is a fascinating cultural product, and I am constantly amazed at what has been uploaded. I have used it in my work directly and indirectly in myriad ways. For example, I have a sculpture which exists entirely on Youtube, and I have other works where I have ripped videos from Youtube and folded them into new videos or made still images from Youtube screenshots. I usually start my day on Youtube, watching things or listening to music – it has become an important part of my practice.

Dean Cross: A Sullen Perfume
27 February – 15 April 2020
Yavuz Gallery, Sydney

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