Publication: The Times
Around the Scottish Galleries: Dundee
Since winning the Turner Prize in 1987 the sculptor Richard Deacon has become recognised as an artist of international importance. He has shown his work widely both in Britain and abroad, most notably at Documenta IX in Kassel, Germany and more recently at the Tate Gallery in Liverpool. His installation ‘How much does Your Mind Weigh’ formed part of a series of commissions for the Millennium Dome.
Deacon’s work, while not exactly defying explanation and description, is far from easy to analyse. ‘What is it about?’ and ‘What does it mean?’ are certainly questions which are asked; and almost by definition these questions will remain, to a greater of lesser extent, unanswered, or more accurately, unanswerable.
Primarily, Deacon is a sculptor of ideas; his work invites debate and is discursive. As another commentator has noted, Deacon, like all serious artists, is both a maker and a philosopher of art. Nevertheless, the material form in which these ideas are expressed — although secondary to the philosophical intent of the work — is nevertheless important and indeed crucial to these discursive elements.
Throughout his career, Deacon has chosen wood as one of his media of expression. But the choice of this material seems almost contradictory to his intent. It as if by some obtuse and perverse reasoning he has chosen a material not ideally suited to the physical demands made of it by the artist.
The present show actually comprises three separate yet interrelated pieces — a sound work, entitled ‘Uhmm’, a ceramic wall sculpture, ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow’, and the most visually arresting element, a sculpture of steam-bent ash, ‘ UW84DC’. The enigmatic title derives from the new ‘language’ of mobile phone text messaging and ‘translates’ as ‘You Wait for the Sea’. As with most of Deacon’s titles, this is deliberately elusive, teasing the viewer, provoking. Certainly, we are pointed in the direction of one possible reading — that the sinuously weaving and contorted shapes suggest the movements and flow of water.
But there is surely more to the work than its clearly mimetic qualities. Deacon has long espoused a fascination with language and its strengths and weaknesses as a medium of communication. He suggests that its very artificiality and ‘unnaturalness’ hinder as much as enhance understanding. The wooden shapes appear to have been strewn at random on the gallery floor. They have, in fact, been assembled with close attention to their relationship with one another, like the order of words in spoken language. But the lacunae and gaps suggest that language is not enough to define and describe our relationship with the exterior world. This notion is further enhanced by the sound sculpture — an edited interview with Deacon — where the ‘meaning’ has been removed, leaving only the sub-semantic pauses (the uhmms and ahhs) which constitute actual speech.
Richard Deacon — Sculpture
Dundee Contemporary Arts
Until June 24