Words: Daniel Mudie Cunningham
In less than five years since art school, Dean Cross has experienced a steady ascent that is about to escalate with dazzling intensity. Initially trained as a dancer and choreographer, he first emerged on stage. After reassessing his creative pursuits following a significant injury, he transitioned to the gallery, retraining at Sydney College of the Arts followed by a stint at the Australian National University, where he was awarded first-class honours and a university medal.
Born and raised in Ngunnawal/Ngambri Country and of Worimi descent, Cross works across a diverse range of media, allowing the idea to guide the form. Since 2017 he has been a resident at the Clothing Store Artist Studios at Carriageworks. “In between studio time, a lot of my work is thinking,” he says. “In the studio, it is more an exploratory material practice.”
Initially, Cross was intent on being completely divorced from a choreographic practice, but over the past two years in his Clothing Store studio, he has realised how much it informs his approach. “I’m thinking in the same way, it’s just that the material has changed. The core idea of choreography is a multiplicity and crafting of lots of moving parts that have relationships to each other, but those relationships can shift and change.” He describes this methodology as improvisational and “practical” in the sense that he is interested in the collision of materials, ideas and histories. Deriving from parataxis – a sentence that can be understood even if you remove some of the words – he sees each of his works as part of a longer sentence.
In large part, Cross has artist and curator Nici Cumpston to thank for his grand entrée into the art world. Cross and Cumpston met on the opening day of Tracey Moffatt’s exhibition at the Venice Biennale in May 2017. Five months later Cumpston included him in Tarnanthi at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Since then, his work has shown at UNSW Galleries, Australian Centre of Photography, Artspace, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art and 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. He regards his solo show, I Love You, I’m Sorry at Firstdraft in January 2020, as a watershed moment. Following this, he was picked up by Yavuz Gallery (Sydney and Singapore). Already his work has been collected by the Art Gallery of South Australia, National Gallery of Victoria and Queensland University of Technology Art Museum.
Aside from various forthcoming institutional shows under embargo, we can look forward to his solo Icarus, my Son at Goulburn Regional Art Gallery in July 2021. The project is the outcome of Cross being awarded The Good Initiative, an ongoing $20,000 biennial commission from Goulburn. Returning to the region and country where he grew up, this opportunity signals an important juncture in his practice. Grounded in place, his work will consider how the dichotomy of center/periphery is constructed through provincialism, centrifugal forces, and aspirational migrations.
Cross promises that the exhibition will be “like a drunken Aunty at a family gathering who knows all of your secrets and gleefully throws them down on the dinner table for the whole family to devour. It will be a social portrait of a time new to us but known too well by our ancestors – especially those at ground zero in 1770.” From the periphery back to the centre, audiences in Sydney, where Cross lives and works on Gadigal land, can view Icarus, my Son when it travels to Carriageworks in November 2021.
Image: Dean Cross, Polyptych: D.A.D.S (death and disaster series), 2020. Pencil, oil stick, ink, felt tip pen, found photographs with Rhodamine-B on 600 gsm Saunders Waterford mold-made paper, 76 x 336cm. Courtesy: the artist and Yavuz Gallery, Sydney and Singapore.
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 95, JAN – MAR 2021.