True Red Ruin (Elmina Castle) is a two-channel video set in Cuney Homes, an affordable housing complex in Houston Texas. The video’s narrative echoes multiple historical accounts of Elmina Castle, one of the first prefabricated buildings, shipped from Portugal in 1482 and constructed on the Gold Coast in Ghana today. Dean plays the site manager of a new “Elmina Castle” development amid the existing Cuney Homes, while the artist’s sister and friends (who actually live in Cuney Homes) play the local residents. The building of Elmina Castle destroyed traditional village homes and heralded the destructive effects of European colonisation in Africa – by the 1600’s the castle had become a major port in the Atlantic slave trade. Dean’s fictional, present day, Elmina Castle makes parallels with this event, placing Houston and its current rapid gentrification at the centre of the story. Reflecting on the legacy of the slave trade and colonialism, the work explores the construction of subjectivity through surveillance technologies and displaced communities in the 21st century. Dean employs contemporary prefabricated media, such as the cartoon-like point-of-sale displays often used in marketing campaigns, to interrogate the continuities between the history of colonialism and today’s global consumer capitalism.
The video comes after Dean’s 2016 work A Portrait of True Red, which merges the story of its main character with a pair of red named Vampire (Vamps) Nike trainers. The undertone of violence and overlaying of language and experience is shared in both works and relates to Dean’s interest in the effect advertising, media and capitalist power structures have on our everyday lives.
Crossed Wires (2017) is a three-channel video filmed in the American South-West and Manhattan. This dark comedy opens in a cave, with four characters who move through the production cycle of copper, from pit mines, refineries, a wire factory to city rooftops all the while trying to make connections with each other, site and sight. The performers interact with copper as it becomes wire, drawing a relationship with alienation, human labour and production. They sing, move and interact, grappling with language, definitions and descriptors and engaging in a dialogue with land, materiality and art. The video is shown alongside a weaving, Perspectus…a…um (2017), digitally designed but handmade by Oleson, a locational stage used in the last scenes of the video. The design is based on the grid that orients virtual objects in 3D imaging programmes and visual and personal perspective, as the title alludes. It compresses and expands view in ways that reference art history – perspective, modernism and artists such as Anni Albers, whose Bauhaus textiles functioned as objects and as labour that crossed over from the realm of the domestic to that of fine art and technology.
The work comes from of Oleson’s expansive multi-disciplinary practice which includes photography, video, performance and sculpture. Her practice is unified through the utilisation of humour, perception, , and materials through queer and feminist position, often used as a mechanism to talk about labour, shared experience and the absurd conditions inherent in capitalism.