THIS IS RUBBISH! Dean Brannagan's Modified Magazines
DEAN BRANNAGAN is an artist and video maker who lives & works in London. In the second of the WHY X LIKES BLACK series, I talked to him about his Modified Magazines.
Dean’s studio is full of detritus in the process of being re-assigned; orderly stacks of the discarded/collected resembling sculptures or installation, even pre-transformation, as they are deliberated within his space. Objects are being destroyed and reborn here, by utilised accident and by design, so although there is not much black on this page, it’s themes are coded. These little things have been alchemised, albeit in a bucket of London tap water.
I happened upon a Modified Magazine on a studio visit and was captivated. I cooed over it, wanted to take one home. They appear animated. They stand up. Have a new shape from the process of their individual re-making – having been drowned, squeezed, torn, dried out, paint splattered, then glossily varnished back to life. The glimpses of flesh tone and body part, partially enacted scenes and random text still signal to the parts they were constructed to appeal to. They head straight for the id. But now their throw away-ness has become a kind of enshrined object-ness. They draw you in. You feel worshipful of them, want to possess them. It’s interesting. The more mangled ones carry a kind of Stonehenge of abandonment.
Glamour is defined as “exciting or mysterious attractiveness usually associated with striking physical beauty, luxury, or celebrity”, but originally, archaically, described a spell. To cast a glamour was a magical form of captivation, an enthrallment. Rendering the target without free will. Let’s remember this.
We are living in a media bath of glamour, and propaganda, loveliness and horror, fascination and fear. This media constantly acts on us, and we are constantly buying into it, being bought by it. We know this, but still somehow we are immune to its reality, its consequence. We may swat away at the crosses in the pop up boxes, skip or study the front 30 or so advert pages of a heavy glossy, but a lot of it still goes in. Drip fed. It defines us to sell to us, we buy into it's definitions of our selves. It's gathering up represents a mean average of the quantum intelligence of our society. Don't we want to swap it up for something more evolved? What would that look like?
Magazines are particular little envelopes of fantasy. Physical fetish objects. Private moments of projection. I set a level of intoxication for a fashion spread, art image, or interior styled “home” scene when browsing – to consider how durable its worth is to me. How long the hit will last. Then there is a toxicity scale. (For a while, I used to only buy fashion magazines in languages I couldn't read.) These are in balance. I quickly critique and demean the advertising, study its codes - to try and dispel its primitive targetting. Assess how long before I can no longer feel the glamour, and they become just a stack of papers to be recycled. Mostly now I then leave them on the shelf.
So for me Dean's objects have a really beautiful signification. They physically replicate this process- of both subject and object, the doer and the done to. My id got some therapy from hanging with the Modifieds.
Q: WHY DID YOU START MAKING THE MODIFIED MAGAZINES?
Magazines are designed to seduce us. They feed on desire like a vampire, are parasitic and require a host to carry out their function. I started using them as ‘objects' in response to this.
I noticed magazines discarded on the street, that had been left out in the rain and become a pulpy mess. I took a couple back to my studio and left them to dry out. I was intrigued and excited by the results. These crusty fossilised lumps seemed to convey an element of truth at last!
I began recreating that process by submerging them in buckets of water; I would leave them for up to a week to get really saturated. I would then take them out and wring the water out of them, twisting them so they became unrecognisable. There was something sadistically pleasurable about squeezing the life out of a Sunday colour supplement or Vogue or whatever. I would then let these strangled pieces dry out and then solidify them further by gloss coating them in PVA or resin.
I’m currently making a series of these objects - 'The Dace Agalma’s'. The Agalma is a term used by Lacan (French psychoanalystic/post-stucturalist) to describe the objet petit - the unobtainable object of desire, or the unconscious truth we wish to find. Originally from ancient Greek, the agalma was endowed with magical powers beyond its apparent superficial value. And Dace Road is where my studio is.
Q: YOU USE MEDIA AS MEDIA. WHEN DID YOU START DOING THIS AND WHY?
The first time I used newspapers was with the artist Tim Brennan in 1991, during the first Gulf War. I was at the Jan Van Eyck Academy in Maastricht on the postgraduate course, and Tim and I made a performance piece called “We Are Writing Letters” using a lot of black oil. After the ‘live part’ we laid out newspapers to soak the oil up. We then realised that we had something more interesting than the actual performance. The oil came through the reverse of the printed page producing a blackened double image. So we fly posted the academy with the oil soaked pages, and called it ‘The Double Silent’.
I was almost thrown out of the academy but it was the beginning of my long interest in using newspapers. I’ve used them ever since in one-way or another. Now newspapers and printed matter are starting to feel like relics – analogue material that’s being superseded by the digital.
Text Julie Wilkins 2016. Images Dean Brannagan