Dean Kessmann: Conner Contemporary Art

By Wennerstrom, Nord | Artforum International, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Dean Kessmann: Conner Contemporary Art


Wennerstrom, Nord, Artforum International


The translucent, quasi-organic, saclike forms that are the subjects of Dean Kessmann's recent color digital prints are curious and inviting, but also a little disturbing. They appear to be embryonic forms so brilliantly backlit that their innards are visible, and their crumpled surfaces suggest impending desiccation. But these things are no longer organic at all. Hundreds of millions of years ago they were plant and animal life, but they subsequently turned into oil that was pumped out of the ground and made into cheap carryalls emblazoned with smiley faces. Yes, they're plastic bags.

Kessmann's elegant work rescues these ubiquitous objects from ignominy (as well as, temporarily, from the recycling bin) and cleverly transforms them from aesthetically desolate trash into radiant sculptural forms. Each of the large digital pigment prints in the series "Plastic on Paper," 2005, depicts a single, wrinkled bag against an incandescent white background. The images are slightly larger than life, yet somehow transcend questions of scale. The crumpling (and a touch of Photoshop manipulation) blurs and condenses text, logos, and other identifiers into indeterminate shapes that seem to hover within their diaphanous confines.

Enshrining and fetishizing--while at the same time ridiculing--the world of commerce is hardly a new strategy, but Kessmann's brand of objectification offers a fresh acknowledgment of the moral ambiguity inherent in "environmentally conscious" consumerism. His is a beautiful and subtly comic body of work that nonetheless manages to implicate us in the first world's profligate exploitation of resources. To paraphrase Kessmann's artist's statement, these glowing shapes invariably remain recognizable, but transcend their base origins to achieve an unexpected beauty. …

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