April Dean is an artist and a writer who transmits messages from her home in Edmonton. In this Alberta Printmakers exhibition, Dean presents prints and related work that reveals her ongoing interest in the connection between emotions and words. Dean confronts our seemingly inexhaustible need to relate our deepest thoughts and feelings and the misplaced sloganizing that often accompanies our attempts to communicate meaningfully with others.
The majority of works in this show are photographic images of text on T-shirts. Dean prints phrases on the T-shirts and photographs them wet on a light table. The final works are digitally printed on transparent Pictorico Film and displayed off the wall by a few inches. These works have the feel of X-rays, nicely commenting on our need to communicate our innermost desires with this relatively recent fashion item. T-shirts proclaim, “this is what is inside me”, whether they say, “WE ARE ILL-EQUIPPED & UNPREPARED”, as one of Dean’s works declares, or “Go Oilers!”
Dean’s phrases are provocative, sometimes vague, but consistently open to deeper interpretation about the meaning of these specific words or larger ideas about how living language works. Like a Facebook update, Dean’s printed T-shirts disclose our current status to world. In most cases, Dean’s phrases are assertive announcements in capital letters that begin with a plural pronoun. Nonetheless, the proclamations express some awkward self-doubt. Dean is interested in how various public platforms are used to express emotional states however the text’s peculiar evasiveness may reflect Dean’s parallel interest in the things we choose not to share publicly.
Much has been written about the benefits and challenges that current technology brings to communication. A recent Globe and Mail article on media scholar Sherry Turkel’s new book Reclaiming Conversation: the Power of Talk in the Digital Age, suggests that electronic communication may hinder face to face communication. Distracted by technology, we “move in and out of paying attention, our conversations become light, losing much of their empathetic possibility.” Some psychic urgency in Dean’s communications leaves me anxious about the state of language itself. I wonder if words can still elicit genuine empathy.
In June 1916, Hugo Ball stated that it was “imperative to write invulnerable sentences.” When Ball wrote this, it must have seemed to him and his Dada compatriots that language had been rendered useless in the face of the carnage of the First World War. Nightly performances at the Cabaret Voltaire and other seemingly absurd actions could be interpreted as a ritualized madness for a world gone mad with Ball’s own sound poetry revealing a special kind of trauma-induced linguistic madness.
Contemporary life is difficult (not WWI difficult) although, on a daily basis, we negotiate challenging psychic and emotional territory. Without fail, language is our primary tool in these negotiations. It is a way to communicate with others and, simultaneously, the way we discover our own thoughts. April Dean’s oddly self-assured declarations draw attention to the process of language as thought and language as self-examination.