The many faces of Max Dean

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By Pascale Marchand

Picture a scene from Wizard of Oz. In a dark room you stand in front of the projected face of artist Max Dean. You sit on a chair facing the projected face, and it asks, “So, you want to be me?” There is a pause. “Say something,” it continues.

You speak into a microphone, and a video camera films your reaction. In less than a second, Max Dean’s projection repeats what you just said word for word, in your voice. The facial expressions of the projection match your own.

“In Japan, it’s quite an amazing thing to watch me speak Japanese,” says Dean, in his studio.

Be Me is one of many interactive pieces Dean will discuss at the Kodak Lecture Series at Ryerson this Friday.

Dean excels in the interaction between viewer and art. Unlike traditional art, which Dean calls “static,” Dean brings his art to life. He plays with the reaction of the viewers.

“Normally, you are in complete control,” he says of viewing traditional art. “You can stand back, forwards, whatever. In these cases you don’t.”

One of these cases is The Table: Childhood. As a viewer, you enter a room occupied only by a silver table. Depending on how you move in the room, the table will also move.

“(The table) tries to establish a conversation with you,” says Dean. “If you’re aggressive, the character on the table is such that it is humble and it doesn’t like aggression, so it moves away from you.”

His most known piece is As Yet Untitled, a robot that picks up photographs and presents them to the viewer. If the viewer does not react by touching the hands of the robot, the robot drops the photo into a shredder. A conveyor belt then brings it to a pile of other shredded photos. If the viewer chooses to keep the photo, it is placed in a box for safe keeping.

“You either choose to ignore (the robot), or you choose to get involved. But you’re immediately involved by being in the room,” says Dean. “You can’t get away. There’s an event taking place, where there’s a consequence.”

As Yet Untitled has been presented with about half a million photos so far. A third of these were chosen to be saved and are now kept by Dean.

“It seems only right to me,” says Dean, “that if someone made the choice (to keep the photo) that we honour that choice and keep the photograph.”

During his Ryerson lecture, Dean will talk about the dialogue and conversation which goes on amongst the three participants: the art, the viewer and the artist. He will also discuss the two processes of creating art: one by starting with an idea or visualising it, or another starting with the object, and making it an idea.

“I’m going to tell you why I make the work,” says Dean. He says the art plays with the audience’s reaction, involving control and trust.

Robert Burley, coordinator of the Lecture Series, says Dean’s work is “quite unique. Not only with the technologies that he’s working with, but the ideas he brings to his work, and the way that he involves the viewers of the work.”

Dean has a BA in art history from UBC. He has been showing his works since the mid-seventies, but in the past three years, his works have been shown across the country at the Susan Hobbs Gallery in Toronto; the National Gallery of Canada and the Ottawa Art Gallery. He has also shows internationally in Finland, Germany and Italy.

Dean’s lecture takes place in LIB 72 at 7:30 p.m. Friday Jan. 31. Admission is free.

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