Commonwealth and Council presents a recent body of work consisting of drawings, sculptures, and videos by Danielle Dean. ‘a shoe, a phone, a castle’ examines media devices and their role in constructing, communicating, and upholding ambiguous and often oppressive ideologies, as well as their potential subversion. Drawing from Gold Coast trade history, YouTube self-branding, Marshall McLuhan, telemarketing scripts, and Nike product reviews, Dean reveals the pervasive thread of violence in history.
The two-channel video installation ‘True Red Ruin’ takes as a starting point the Elmina Castle in Ghana, brought over in a pre-fabricated form on ten Portuguese ships in the 1400s, established to protect trade interests in the region. Through a fictionalized version of this history, Dean probes at the structures that shape and enforce hierarchies and racist constructs. These tools of oppression are made of brick and stone as much as abstractions and ideologies. Interweaving Elmina Castle’s history with the lives of Dean’s sister and her friends, ‘True Red Ruin’ is shot in Cuney Homes, a historic affordable housing community in Houston, Texas. Displacing homes and built on a sacred site, the castle was at once a symbol of invasion, protection, power, capital, surveillance, and a model that would be reproduced along the Gold Coast for centuries. These strongholds made permanent the presence of Europeans in West Africa and would become key points of the slave trade, eventually serving as storage for both goods and people. Dean carries out an examination of the castle as both medium and cultural technology. Its function as early panopticon is a striking example of a visual regime of constant surveillance, its architecture preemptively criminalizing the surrounding population.
‘a shoe, a phone, a castle’ weaves together a counter- narrative of precarious labor and the violence of capitalism.The video ‘A Portrait of True Red’ tells the story of Sam Jones, who merges with the Nike sneaker True Red Vampire. Jones’ monologue draws from historical accounts of political violence such as slave revolts in the 1700s, police brutality towards Black Panther member Assata Shakur, and violence against the workers in China who make Nike sneakers.
The complicated lives of objects, like those of Elmina Castle and the Vampire sneaker, are brought to the forefront in the hand-drawn animation ‘True Red’, in which the protagonist sneaker morphs into various forms—a bat, a castle, a red substance, a woman. Dean’s use of animation is a nod to its use by avant-garde artists seeking progressive social change in the early twentieth century, as well as its cooption by private companies as a marketing tool. In this exhibition Dean’s multifaceted practice insists on critical reflection of the very fabric of our world—encouraging radical readings of history and media’s place in it, to question the false neutrality of social and historical constructs.