Critics’ Picks

View of “Danielle Dean: a shoe, a phone, a castle,” 2017.

View of “Danielle Dean: a shoe, a phone, a castle,” 2017.

Los Angeles

Danielle Dean

Commonwealth and Council
3006 West 7th Street, Suite 220
January 22–March 4, 2017

It all begins at the end, with a shoe—Nike True Red Vamps, released in 2003, so named for its striking red-and-black colorway, and for the well-worn mythological association of vampires with darkness and blood. In the hands of Danielle Dean, whose previous work is as well versed in the languages of advertising and pop culture as it is in political-economic philosophy (keep in mind the myth-rending quote from Marx: “Capital is dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks”), the shoe is the starting point for a suite of videos, drawings, set pieces, and other objects that broadly investigate the beginnings, logistics, and legacies of the Atlantic slave trade.

True Red Ruin (Elmina Castle), 2017, a two-channel video suspended above the cardboard remnants of a bright-red outcropping of towers and walls (referencing the titular Portuguese-built brick structure on the coast of Ghana, now in ruins), brings these disparate subjects into centripetal alignment. The video is shot mostly in the present-day context of Cuney Homes, an affordable-housing tract—also built with red brick—in Houston’s Third Ward, where the artist’s sister, Ashstress Agwundobi, and her friends live. The narrative circles around the staged ambivalences between Dean, who plays the role of a site manager attempting to get the local community to pay for the construction of a castle (which is actually the aforementioned cardboard), and Agwundobi, who is the sometimes complicit, sometimes rebellious resident. As progress on the structure accelerates, so too do the intertitles, reflecting the evolution of the cell-phone technology that both Dean and her sister use to tell their stories. Deferred-payment plans, surveillance, knocks on the door; this is a story displaced from the past and rewrapped in the trimmings of the present, ending in the aftermath of a revolution.