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Issue 216

Michael Dean’s Alphabet of Kisses

The artist’s show at Progetto, Lecce, speaks to how communication is both verbal and physical

BY Camila McHugh in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 03 NOV 20

For want of anyone to kiss during lockdown, London-based artist Michael Dean made artworks with his mouth. Rubbing an olive oil and lipstick solution onto his lips, he kissed 32 sheets of paper in text-like formations then dusted the marks with cement powder. While pandemic loneliness is the show’s abiding impression, Dean’s works at Progetto also speak to how communication is both verbal and physical.

Michael Dean, ‘Kiss Emitting Die Odes’, 2020
Michael Dean, ‘Kiss Emitting Die Odes’, 2020, exhibition view, Progetto, Lecce. Courtesy: the artist, Progetto, Lecce, and Herald St., London; photograph: Marco Cappelletti 

For more than a decade, Dean has mined the meaning in illegible forms by setting self-made typefaces in books and in concrete. Yet, while paper sheets and thin cement sculptures have already been featured in installations such as Tender Tender (2017) at Skulptur Projekte Münster, the works in ‘Kiss Emitting Die Odes’ merge these materials more resolutely. Hanging in pairs in the corners of the gallery’s four rooms, the works fan open from the wall creases as if from the spines of books. Dean’s practice always begins with writing and these works are no exception. In Hate Hate (Working Title) (all works, 2020) and Love Love (Working Title), grey kiss marks form the titular words against a light cement haze, thin lines wrinkling the puckered lips like tributaries. In Blood (Working Title), bony marks made by smearing lips down the page are punctuated at each end with darker smudged pouts.

Michael Dean, xxxx xxx (Working Title), 2020
Michael Dean, xxxx xxx (Working Title), 2020, olive oil, lipstick and cement on paper, 105.5 × 77 cm.  Courtesy: the artist, Progetto, Lecce, and Herald St., London; photograph: Marco Cappelletti 

Dean intellectualizes the girlish flourish of a letter sealed with a kiss, stretching the gesture thin in search of shapes for love and loss. In ‘Kiss Emitting Die Odes’, you can see the grasping, but you can’t feel it. Kissing is about feeling and that’s what’s lost here, as these configurations suck any emotion in the gushy stamp dry.

Michael Dean, ‘Kiss Emitting Die Odes’ runs at Progetto, Lecce, Italy, until 31 December 2020.

Main image: Michael Dean, baci (Working Title) (detail), 2020, lipstick on book page, 27.5 × 19.5 cm. Courtesy: the artist, Progetto, Lecce, and Herald St., London; photograph: Marco Cappelletti 

Camila McHugh is a writer and curator based in Berlin, Germany. She also co-organizes the fundraising platform Art for Black Lives.