DEAN CROSS

Dean Cross is a descendant of the Worimi nation and currently studying his Honours at the Australian National University’s School of Art and Design. Dean’s visual arts practice builds on his extensive international career as a contemporary dance choreographer and performer. Now his work encompasses video, performance, painting, print-making, photography and sculpture in the expanded field.

Dean’s work looks to investigate, comprehend and critique the world we live in, addressing socio-political and cultural norms while reinvigorating them with contemporary understanding. His work often draws on his Indigenous ancestry to interrogate our post–colonial epoch, with a burning desire to understand what it means to be a 21st century Australian.

Dean was a finalist in the Konica Minolta Redlands Art Prize, The Churchie National Emerging Art Prize, and his work Right Lands was awarded the 2015 Macquarie Group Highly Commended Emerging Artist Prize.

Photo by Janelle Evans.

Dean’s work will be exhibited in Moving Nations.

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ou have a former life as a contemporary dancer. What was the catalyst for making the move across the visual art? Do you still dance professionally or is this something you have well and truly left behind? 

The catalyst was two-fold. A major spinal injury in 2012, which followed numerous other injuries throughout my career, pushed me to a precipice. I felt drained by the experience and was no longer enjoying dance as a career. I’d also achieved everything and more that I set out to achieve, and wanted to push into new territory and expand my horizons. Visual art is allowing me to do that. I do still perform professionally though, when I feel the project is right. I also regularly teach, and this year I have become a board member for QL2 Dance, Australia’s premier youth dance company. I began my training there in 2000 so its great to continue my relationship there, and help lay the foundations for other future artists.

You often use elements of performance art in your work. How did your contemporary dance career help prepare you for this? 

My previous experiences as a dancer and choreographer shape what I do in many ways. Choreography is sculptural in its application, inasmuch as it is understanding and engaging three-dimensional space. It also has fostered in me an acute knowing of my own body in space, and ways to engage with that to illicit some kind of response in a viewer. A lot of my dance practice was improvisational also, which has trained an ability to trust an impulse and see it through. I find this helps a lot in the studio when I am working as thinking.

“[Choreography] also has fostered in me an acute knowing of my own body in space, and ways to engage with that to illicit some kind of response in a viewer.”

From left: The future I was Born In to, Charcoal, gesso and Ngunnawal ochre on found canvas, 60x60 cm, 2016. Maquette (making icons disappear)digital image, 2017. Images courtesy of the Artist.

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ou completed a residency in Gunyah in 2016. What was that experience like? How did it influence your work? 

The Gunyah residency was absolute paradise. Gunyah is on Worimi Country, which is where I am descendant from. My Grandfather was born half-an-hour away and the landscape and the places are part of me. It was a total privilege to able to spend focussed creative time there. I fished everyday, talked to the dolphins, watched whales, sang songs with the birds and chopped wood for the fire. Bliss. Creatively it fuelled me, and allowed me to draw on energy reserves from my ancestors that are eons old. I am still working on ideas nearly a year later that began at Gunyah.

What has been your proudest achievement to date? 

Tough question. There have been many brief shining moments that have filled me with pride. I have worked with a lot of young dancers over the years and I am always amazed at their growth, maturity and beauty. It is incredibly rewarding to work with a large group of young people and create something amazing together, and then watch them proudly share it with their family and friends. I am proud also of my decision to pursue visual art. Most retiring dancers do something more sensible, which will end the uncertainty that follows the life of a creative.

How does your heritage as a descendant of the Worimi nation influence your work? Are there any particular parts of your cultural identity which you are interested in exploring? 

It influences my work in that it shapes my being. It connects me to a history and connects me to one of the most important narratives in 21st Century Australia. I feel honoured to have the heritage that I do, and feel a responsibility to continue culture through my practice. As far as identity is concerned, there is nothing explicit that I feel I tackle head on, although it will always be present within my work. I feel this is true for any artist. Who Am I and Where Do I Come From are relevant questions globally.

“I feel honoured to have the heritage that I do, and feel a responsibility to continue culture through my practice. As far as identity is concerned, there is nothing explicit that I feel I tackle head on, although it will always be present within my work. I feel this is true for any artist.”

Dropping the Bullshit (we look like this too), Digital Image, 2016. Image courtesy of the Artist.

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f you could invite 5 people (dead or alive) to a dinner party, who would you invite and why?

Isadora Duncan – both to thank and drink champagne with her.

Andy Warhol – because his entourage would be in tow which would make for a crackin’ party.

Homer Simpson – for obvious reasons.

Frank Gehry – to probe his mind.

And one of my pals because I wouldn’t want to be at this dinner party without a friend to share the experience with.

What does the rest of 2017 hold for you? 

Presently I am on my way to Venice for a month to work at the Australian Pavilion, after working as Tracey Moffatt’s studio assistant last year. Whilst I am away I have some work in a group show at Blak Dot in Melbourne. When I return I am showing in a bangin’ show at Collab Gallery in Sydney, and also finalising work for a solo show at Huw Davies Gallery, Canberra. I am also creating and performing a short dance work for the National Portrait Gallery, all of which happens before the end of July. After all of that I will focus back on my Honours, which I am currently completing at the ANU School of Art & Design. Then I melt into a puddle and slide my way to the South Coast to spend a month or so camping, fishing and swimming and re-building myself for 2018.

PolyAustralis, archival pigment prints on hahnemuhle cotton rag, 59.4 x 84.1cm, part of the permanent collection of the QUT Art Museum. Image courtesy of the Artist.

FINAL FIVE

Favourite book?  My favourite is always the one I am currently reading. At present it is Roland Barthes Mythologies; unknowingly borrowed from my old friend Angela Goh. (Thanks for the book if you’re reading this Ange!)

Favourite film? Too many to choose from…

Favourite band / musician? Rachmaninov / Little Dragon / My six year old niece making up songs for me.

If you could change one thing about the world today what would it be?  Capitalism.