Visual artist Anna Dean incorporates a laser cutting machine, hand drawn scribbles, sculptures, projections and more. | Photo provided

Anna Dean explores the topics of climate change and technology with a multisensory exhibition at Public Works Art Center in Summerville. The exhibition, called Fluid Dynamics, explores issues of control, chaos and order. 

“The recent global pandemic taught us that there are many things beyond our control,” Dean wrote in her artist statement. “We are not only battling the rising tide of climate change due to global warming, which is rapidly shifting our physical landscape, but we are also experiencing a rising tide of technology, as a new digital landscape forms and spills over into our physical existence.”

Fluid Dynamics features projections, sculptures, 2D work, auditory components, a multiscreen viewing room and more. The exhibition is funded in part by the South Carolina Arts Commission.

Dean is an interdisciplinary artist from Rock Hill working in sculpture, installation, video and mixed media. She received her bachelor’s degree from Francis Marion University in art education, followed by a 16-year career teaching art in Greenville County. In 2017, Dean decided to go back to school at Winthrop University for her master’s degree in fine art. 

Dean said she has always been inspired to make art in response to current events. She was working on photorealistic, small-scale political paintings when she started at Winthrop. A professor advised Dean to “try everything” while in school to grow as an artist, and she took that advice to heart. 

“After bumbling through the first month or two of school, I decided I was just going to go for it. I started making steel sculptures, and I learned how to weld, and did performance art and video and all this crazy stuff because, why not? You’re only there for three years — why not just jump in with both feet and make big mistakes?”

Dean | Provided

Last summer Dean participed in the Medical University of South Carolina Arts in Healing Show at Redux Contemporary Art Center when she first connected with Jana Riley, director of the Public Works Art Center in Summerville. 

When Riley gave Dean a tour of the gallery space, the artist was immediately fascinated by the building’s history as a post office. 

“They cut the back off the vault door so you can see all these gears and pulleys and crazy mechanical guts of the door,” Dean said. “And I’m a sucker for stuff like that, so it pulled me in. Then I noticed this walkway, which Jana told me was where the former postmaster would pace back and forth. There’s little peep holes; he would peer down on the workers to make sure that they were on task. 

“When I’m creating an exhibition, I think a lot about the history of the space. And I realized this space was all about control — that vault door was about trying to control who had access to information. That walkway was about controlling through surveillance.”

Dean’s site-specific inspiration prompted her to consider systems of control on the micro and macro levels in Fluid Dynamics.

“Pre-Covid, there were all these systems in place that we thought we were in control of,” she said. “I come from a teaching background, and if anybody had told me, we’re going to shut down schools, I would not have believed it. These systems, they seemed like they were too big to shift, but I think we collectively realized during Covid that those walls were not made of stone. Those walls were made of sand.”

Dean’s immersive work takes over the gallery so the viewers are literally stepping inside the work.

“I want it to feel like you’re standing on the edge of an abyss and the art is consuming you,” Dean said. “But I also love that when you walk up close to a piece, and look closely, you can find something intimate, something you weren’t expecting. You see through one piece into another in this show. I try to make my work as multidimensional as I can.”

Dean said her goal as an artist is to start conversations. 

“My job is to walk this earth and pay attention to things and then to take those things and reframe them in a way that other people don’t see them. I want to raise questions like, ‘What is the future of the digital landscape? What are the things that we can and can not control?’ Everybody’s going to come at it from a different angle and see something different — and that’s what’s beautiful about it to me.”

Love Best of Charleston?

Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.