Open Frequency 2010: Dean Hughes selected by Stacy Boldrick

Open Frequency 2010: Dean Hughes selected by Stacy Boldrick Dean Hughes, Installation view of exhibition at Dicksmith Gallery, London, 2008

Stacy Boldrick of the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh profiles the work of Dean Hughes

Dean Hughes makes work out of familiar things: A4 paper, pins, thread, staples, backing card, paper bags, cardboard tubes, and felt tip pens. Hughes makes work that registers as an object in space with properties and values that elicit a phenomenologically-charged viewing experience. Understandably, discourse about his work frequently references the work of artists such as Tom Friedman, Sol Lewitt and Richard Tuttle, and occasionally invokes the dynamic of the modern office environment full of office supplies (see also, Martin Herbert's text on the artist in Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing). 

Beyond taxonomical and contextual approaches, it is critical to address Hughes’s long-term, consistent relationship with these everyday objects, as ordinary things overlooked due to their ubiquitousness. ‘I side with things, and not with materials’, he has said; ‘Functional objects express themselves, not me’ (Dean Hughes, contribution to Dysfunctional Objects seminar at The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 20 March 2009). It makes sense, then, that Hughes should make unorthodox serial works. Hole punch pieces (often made with A4 paper), works made out of A4 paper (sometimes involving staples), staples, paper bags and backing card: all works transgress their place in any series because several series incorporate some of the same objects.

Many of his works operate like drawings and at the same time can also be described as the thinnest possible sculptures. In his Hole Punch pieces, the effect of the punched surface is both spatial and linear. A punched hole may be reinserted into the hole ('Hole Punch Discs Slotted through Paper', 2001), or the paper may be pierced several times and folded ('Folded Hole Punch Piece', 2006); the hole may be left as a hole, as in 'Hole Punch Piece' (2000), where a hole has been punched through the centre of a piece of A4 paper.

Hughes also uses A4 paper in his Pin Drawings, where thread and pin pairs suspend the paper through standard hole pairs, either independently or together ('Pin Drawing No. 2', 2006; 'Pin Drawing No. 20', 2007). Staples appear embedded in A4 paper ('Staples Pushed Up through Paper', 2005) and on a white plinth ('Bent Staples', 2006). Although each work is distinctly different, all of the work captures function through action – an action consisting of one event, one moment in time, or a series of events.

Most recently Hughes has made a series of micro-architectonic wall works incorporating small hole-punched boxes made from backing card and arranged in grid-like structures. In 'Boxes' (2008), a series of boxes is presented in equal and separate spaces, four rows of three columns; a work of the same title presents the boxes without a supporting structure, and a little precariously stacked. Seen together, the works may make associations with ideas about housing or democracy, but what is there is backing card and the possibilities of its function.

Hughes’s desire to understand what makes a thing a particular thing has a long history, dating back to Aristotle’s critique of Plato’s Ideal Forms. Later, in the 6th century, Boethius wrote ‘Even things which are believed to be inanimate also desire in a similar way that which is their own, don’t they? Otherwise why is flame carried upwards by its lightness and solid things carried down by their weight, except because these positions and motions suit the individual things?’ (Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, trans. V. E. Watts, Penguin, London, 1969, Book III, p.107).  In his work, Hughes pays careful attention to the positions and motions of everyday inanimate objects, making visible their otherwise invisible desires.

Stacy Boldrick, November 2009

Artist's biography

Dean Hughes is currently Head of Intermedia at Edinburgh College of Art. He studied Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design, London. In 2009 he produced a visual column for ArtReview magazine.

Solo exhibitions include Dicksmith Gallery, London (2008), Cairn, Pittenweem, Fife (2008), Jack Hanley Gallery, San Francisco (2003), 38 Langham St., London and Turnpike Gallery, Leigh (2002), Jack Hanley Gallery, San Francisco (2001), International 3, Manchester and Laure Genillard Gallery, London (2000) and Gian Carla Zanutti Arte Contemporanea, Milan (1998). He exhibited at CUBE, Manchester, with Matthew Houlding in 2008.

Selected group exhibitions include Boneless Box, Embassy, Edinburgh and In Between the Lines, Recent British Drawings, Trinity Contemporary, London (both 2009); Schwarz weiss ausstellung, Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt,  Library, UOVO open office, Berlin (curated by Adam Carr) (both 2008);Presque Rein, Laure Genillard Gallery, London and Galerie Praxis Hagen, Berlin (both 2007); Karla Black/Dean Hughes/Duncan Marquiss/Jonathan Owen/ Hanneline Visnes, Doggerfisher, Edinburgh (2006); The Text, Bury Museum and Art Gallery, Lancashire, Social Club, Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool (both 2005). Earlier group exhibitions include Nothing, Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania and Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art, Sunderland (2001), The British Art Show 5, Tate Britain, London, Edinburgh/various (2000) and East International, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich (1996).

He lives in Edinburgh and is represented by Dicksmith Gallery, London.

About Stacy Boldrick

Stacy Boldrick is Research and Interpretation Manager at The Fruitmarket Gallery, where she is responsible for programming talks and seminars and for writing and producing interpretative materials for exhibitions.

After completing an MA at the University of Pittsburgh and a PhD in History of Art at the University of Manchester, Stacy was Research Co-ordinator for the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, where she curated Homes for the Soul: Micro-architecture in Medieval and Contemporary Art and, with David Park and Paul Williamson, she curated Wonder: Painted Sculpture from Medieval England. From 2002 to 2007, Stacy co-ordinated research projects between institutional partners in VARIE (Visual Arts Research Institute Edinburgh) and was an occasional lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. With Richard Clay she edited Iconoclasm: Contested Objects, Contested Terms (Ashgate, 2007). Stacy is an Honorary Fellow in History of Art at the University of Edinburgh, and writes about medieval and contemporary art.

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