Analogue LOL plays on the ubiquity of the acronym LOL in popular culture and the disconnection between these unassuming letters and the vibrant bodily action that is signified. Originating as internet slang, LOL has now worked its way into spoken language. But far from being a genuine sign of physical emotion, it has become a filler, a buffer for the uncertainties, vulnerabilities and ambiguities inherent in human communication.
“The whole universe is falling to pieces, what do we do about it? We might as well just say LOL.”
Dean seeks to locate the sinew connecting the disembodied word and the body that utters it, subjecting LOL to the violence of physicality and the materiality of what it is to exist in the world.
“Taking the word LOL and putting it through things, as if it produces character.”
“A body that something is done unto – this possibility to do things to the word LOL.”
Dean’s experiments with the sculptural possibilities of typography prefigure his physical gestures towards the reification of language. In his most recent book, clusters of the emoji ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ loop and swirl across the page, forming abstracted LOLs which climax in calligraphic cascades of digital emotion. While there is density in this printed matter there is, as yet, no gravity implied. This comes when the word is made to exist in space, initially as a slender metal skeleton which the artist bends to mimic the basic curves of the written line, in anticipation of what Dean has called a re-membering of that writing.
“The gravity of rendering it in space does something to the LOL, and that’s when the analogue starts creeping in... Then it’s time to start troubling it.”
Physical struggle is at the core of the materialisation of these characters. Cement, sand and water are massaged together with pigment to form the raw molten flesh of the LOL, contained by a thin plastic skin. Using every ounce of his strength, Dean wrestles with the several hundred kilograms of hot slurry, forcing these enormous intestinal veins around the metal armature to form multiple cursive LOLs. The amorphous matter is cable-tied into place, engaged in a battle of resistance against its unrelenting inclination to collapse.
The intimacy of human size awakens empathy for these awkward, hunched objects, disfigured by the onslaught of language. The works’ very existence is defined by the limits of the artist’s physicality, extending in certain pieces to that of his family. In one piece, LooL (Working Title), the metal architecture of each letter is based on the dimensions of the artist, his two sons and their mother, bound together at the neck by a cable tie. Crimson crossed fingers and contorted fists, cast from life, clot and bleed out of the bare steel skeletons simultaneously flowering and infesting. Emoji-like fists, two-finger gestures, crossed fingers and kisses erupt from the flesh of the concrete characters and emphasise the instinctive bodily communication which precedes our attempts to verbalise feelings:
“We cross our fingers before we make a wish, we clench our fists before an outburst of anger, we kiss before we say ‘I love you’.”
Dean’s ink-saturated books, flowering from his sculptures, resemble dried petals, tensed muscles or enormous fossilised tongues. These corporeal signs contain a myriad of possible emotional crescendos, simultaneously evoking feelings of pain, sadness, exasperation, ecstasy or joy.
Multiple allusions to the organic (the flesh of the concrete, the plastic epidermis containing it) and to the natural world (forests, flowers, leaves, pollen) oppose the human inclination to interpret an author’s text. Dean often uses the biological vocabulary of a flower’s stamen as a metaphor for the uncontrived production of meaning in his work, pages of his writings strewn on the floor as pollen grains shed from the concrete jungle.
While Dean writes himself into these objects in order to create their spatial existence, he subsequently seeks to erase his authorial presence entirely. Expanding on Roland Barthes’ seminal essay, ‘From Work to Text’, in which text is defined by its irreducible plurality of meaning, ‘the infinite postponement of the signified’, Dean sees language as an ever- changing index of human experience. For Dean, the composite language of the city street – perennially overwritten by use, defiled by litter and the grey pebble-dash of gum, routinely effaced by smooth layers of cement awaiting fresh inscription – is a metaphor for his understanding of text as a weave of floating signifiers. As Barthes describes text as ‘a weave of quotations, references, echoes, cultural languages [...] in a vast stereography’, so Dean presents a chaotic field of urban residue with padlocks, tactile paving stones, squashed cans and scene tape. Bearing the unrelenting assault of the human imprint and saturated by the residue of human emotions left behind, the word LOL is transformed into a series of monuments, which commemorate scenes of passionate intensity on the street.
“Hunger, isolation, desperation, all the crescendos that come with love and hate and feeling everything at the same time... the work as post emotional analogue.”
LoL LoL (Working Title) is formed of two grey anthropomorphic figures which appear to be in the midst of combat, one bowing down as the other rises up in challenge. Padlocks, keys still inserted, hang from one body, referencing the urban tendency of enshrining memories of intimacy in public. Dean’s specific colour palette of reds, yellows, greens and blues alludes to the industrial colours of plastics you might find entangled in the intestines of fish and birds or embedded in the soil and silt of the shore, highlighting another example of human residue whilst also referencing the rainbow of emotions felt on the street. Just as the ‘hyper- authorial’ skin of the city rejects the pursuit of singular meaning, so Dean’s typographically informed concrete objects allow the viewer to write themselves into the work. There is no privileged experience from which to encounter these monoliths: poetic resonances are born out of remnants of the everyday, trodden into the layers of public space.
“What’s important for me is that my presence, my being in the world, can facilitate someone else’s presence on a symmetrical level.”