I walked into Michael Dean’s installation Government at the Henry Moore Institute cold, without reading any of the quite detailed leaflet material. I did that quite deliberately. I wanted to see what it suggested to me without being told what to think. Too often what an artist says they are doing is given as much weight as the work which they put in front of you. Just for once, since I knew nothing at all about Michael Dean, I wanted to let his exhibition stand alone.
What I found was a very simple, peaceful and serene space. Two rooms, one with a single paned window letting in light, which had been freshly carpeted and painted in pale, soft neutral colours. They are completely empty except for the work, three flat sculptures, cast in concrete which lean against the walls and two spheres sitting, perfectly placed on the carpet in the middle of the floor. There is also a book placed on the carpet in front of one of the sculptures, which you are invited to tear a page from, containing some of Michael Dean’s writing. A third room contains a plasma screen television showing light falling on a cabbage in the darkened space.
I sat down on the carpet, like the young staff in the room, and had a think. It was certainly an installation- a whole space which was saying something. Here was a perfcctly clean, controlled environment in which nothing could be moved or taken away without loss. The sculptures were minutely placed in relation to each other and the colour tones throughout the space were limited, tasteful and serene. Was it a picture of good government? The perfectly ordered and well organised world, country or private home which none of us ever quite manage to achieve reflected in a gallery space, set there to challenge the violence and chaos in the world around us? A safe space where nothing can harm us and nothing moves? What about the book? Is that simple act of violence to the perfectly ordered environment when a page is torn from the book a symbol of the fact that people bring their own kind of disruption wherever they go? Bear in mind that this disruption has been regulated and sanctioned. I had been given permission to tear out a single page, and that was all. Along with the fact that the three large pieces could not leave the space and remain whole, they had been cast on site, was this a hint that all was not as it seemed in this perfectly ordered world? Was I to keep my page and look at it as a memory of a time within a place where the world was kept at bay and gain strength from it? I didn’t know. I still don’t. All I do know is that I liked being in there, it consoled and pleased me to look around it, and tearing a second page from the book would have been unthinkable. Maybe that was the point.
And the cabbage? I really have no idea.
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