GOVERNMENT. Michael Dean. Henry Moore Institute. Leeds. 24-05-12

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.

The photographs are my own copyright. Please ask if you would like to use them.


6 comments on “GOVERNMENT. Michael Dean. Henry Moore Institute. Leeds. 24-05-12

  1. richard says:

    What an odd concept of art. My comment will not be as large as his display as I have little time on the planet to be looking at 3 strange exibits that have little use or meaning. Possibly if I read his pamphlets, I could surmise more of the B.S he was shovelling to get an art grant from the government, if those exist there.

  2. richard says:

    Under further scrutiny of Micheal’s simplistic works. I find that there is thought that is of a time wasting effort unconciously by him or intentional to conform thoughts of the viewer. Government in reality, does regulate and complicate our lives and makes us do certain song and dances that otherwise we may be actually getting some necesities prepared for winter months. The institute does offer grants and another artist whose work is symbolic in illuminatti circles but incoherent at that place (Eva Rothchild) happens to have the name of the first banking magnate.
    It is sad that this type of art is what oppressors like us to think is art.

  3. URL says:

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  4. Freia says:

    (please, delete previous com, typing mistake in name -_-‘)

    Well… I don’t know if this is “open art” (for every visitor to interpret, subjectively feel or create) or not. Maybe it’s necessary to know the creator’s meaning and intentions, who he is, what he has done before, what he is inspired by, etc., in order to properly understand his work. Sometimes it’s important just not to miss the right message…
    On another hand, your idea is interesting, so let me try to be part of the game, modestly, and with the permanent conscience that everything in my intellectual construction could be wrong, misinterpretation -or even worse : treason.

    I know nothing about Michael Dean, and I looked at the pictures (thanks you made them so HD !) before reading your comment. My first questions were : how are all those things placed in the room ? What are the sculptures made of ? What book is that ?
    Then your text told us there are 3 rooms (but I still can’t imagine how objets are really placed in them, nor how you go from one to the other, which first/last ?), the sculptures are made of concrete (I started to consider they were of plaster, which would have been quite different), and the book is M. Dean’s writing. So…
    I notice the neutral colors, the very clean/controlled/empty/rational space. But, contrary to what you felt about it, I don’t like it. No life, no personality, not human. And too clean to be honest. (Maybe this is just my suspicious character projection… ! ^^). Concrete material and geometric figures mean “construction”, human attempt to built something rational and strong, trying to imitate real stone (reference to Antiquity democracy?). A production of pure intellect. No heart beating, no human. But what is it really ? Fake larger doors falling into pieces (=illusion) and a kind of heavy barrier to the only real one. Plus a big heavy paperweight to control the individual. For I guess the book could represent the artist, its free will, feelings and thoughts. And what is it about it ? : it is torn, piece by piece.
    I find it very subversive you’re “invited” to tear a page by yourself, and as they’re invited to do it, people just do it ! And participate massively to the “autodafé”, the destruction of the individual. I cannot see a book torn and not refer to nazi book burning, even if I’m not Jewish myself. I think it asks the question : what do you do when you’re really there and you’re invited to do something like that ? I want to persuade myself I wouldn’t have touched the book (too much respect for that) but I can’t be sure of it : we’re so different in thoughts and “concrete” (again !) acts !
    The 3 rooms could be the 3 faces of government, or its 3 means/mediums. My problem is I don’t know the difference between the first 2 rooms, but they surely seem quite the same and empty, vain, like a mask, or a lie. As a french language person, I associate the cabbage (and the plasma screen) to the expression “feuille de chou” meaning a bad newspaper. So maybe the 3rd room was showing how governement uses press and mass media to control its own image. But I could be wrong and it could also be a very positive symbol as cabbage means fecundity, so it could represent the world, or just life. It also refers to boy’s birth, so… maybe a political misogyny critic ? Or the image of the world as something made to be eaten ? To make soup of it ?
    What would be the feeling if the cabbage was replaced by… a rose, for instance ?
    I associate also the cabbage to fractal figures, so maybe it symbolizes all the world’s governments interacting ?

    I think I forgot nothing. I’ll tell you if I did ! ;)) Let me know how you consider my point of view.

    PS : found you on Twitter, but seems you abandoned it… 😦

    • patricia1957 says:

      That is really interesting Freia! I did like the piece but it didn’t move me in the way that some Art that I see does- like that piece Monument which I saw on the same day for example. I can understand your response perfectly. I wish that I had written it. 🙂 You have made me think about it all over again. I am now concerned that I did as I was told like a good girl and tore out my single page………………

      The more I think about it that work is not what it seems. It is an illusion of order and well being, rather than a reality. I was part way there and now that I have read your thoughts I feel that I am closer to getting it.

      I tried to look for an email on your blog so that I can introduce myself properly but I couldn’t find it. I’m sorry about twitter. I haven’t abandoned it exactly but I am very bad at remembering it. I don’t really get it. Maybe if I have a smart phone one day………… please tell me it if you can.


      • re-Freia says:

        (Here’s again a com to delete without publishing : I noticed when the name is changed the publication awaits for moderation so that could be a good thing this time !)

        Hey ! I’m very happy (and proud !) my thoughts made you think again about it all. As I told you, that’s just my spontaneous reaction watching at your picts and reading your text, but I could have felt it in another way if seeing it for real ! Talking about this and sharing points of view make ours evolve and improves the meaning of the artwork ; that’s really what’s interesting and exciting about this all, isn’t it ?
        Didn’t want to make you feel guilty… *sorry*… but I still keep this teenager attitude (or this typical nasty french “esprit de contradiction” ? ^^) to question if not oppose (too much, I’m afraid) to what I’m invited to do (rebel rebel ! -or bratty girl !), and “tearing a book” just = HORROR to me.
        But, really, I could also have it all wrong. I only wish I was/were (never got it) more positive about that meaning ! In the end, it’s just a self-reflection we’re doing here, I guess… (art free analysis ! lol)

        Concerning my mail, I really thought you got it as I’m asked to give it when I write a comment. Must say I thought you wanted to send a mail to me last week when you wrote you wanted to make a longer reply… and didn’t understand why it didn’t come, but saw your nice comment on my blog, so I assumed that was all you wanted to tell me ! Well, if you had followed me on Twitter, we could have sent a “private tweet” (thrilling, isn’t it ? *laughs*) to each other, but why bother ? -here it is :

        Thanks again for the discussion, like it a lot !!

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