Sean Dower

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the artist and Southard Reid Gallery Sean Dower, Book Pyre, 2011

Airport novels, academic treatises, Booker Prize-winners – in Sean Dower’s ‘Book Pyre’, tomes of all sorts are indiscriminately jumbled together in a huge heap and piled on top of a plinth made from wooden palettes, whose insides have been packed with scraps of paper and broken sticks for kindling.

It’s a discomfiting, evocative sight, to be sure, yet one that’s crucially very different from various historical episodes of book-burning – which, after all, paradoxically attributed value and significance to the very books being incinerated. Here, it’s the opposite: the books are worthless, Dower seems to suggest, having been rejected by charity shop and libraries on the basis that they already had excess stock. Far from being incendiary, the tone of the work feels bitter and nostalgic – like a sort of funeral service for an outmoded, literary age; a monument to a brave new world of decluttering, digitisation, and library closures.

Instead of literary culture, nowadays it’s mainly visual imagery that disseminates meaning – and the other two works in this tiny exhibition allude to this. ‘Salvation’ features two virtually identical photographs of a Salvation Army warehouse – again, the idea is of unwanted products, material excess – displayed side-by-side and intended to be viewed stereoscopically, so that the resulting single image itself appears, ironically, solid and physical. Only the final piece, ‘3-Frame Subliminal’, consisting of a blank TV on which a ribald image occasionally flashes (in more than one sense of the word), feels slightly predictable and cursory – uncertain whether it’s poking fun at the infantilism of mainstream visual culture, or simply perpetuating it.


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