Self-Timed Portrait, 1994

photographs (supplied by owner of the work)
custom electronics board, machined parts and electric motor and gear train, welded steel box, welded steel box 18 x 30.2 x 18 cm;
mechanical photo feeder 26 x 27.5 x 15 cm
Photograph by Isaac Appelbaum

Self-Timed Portrait


Exhibited in the Three Small Rooms of the MacLaren Art Centre, Barrie  in 1994,  Self-Timed Portrait is a contemporary version of a Vanitas and yet another work by Dean that illustrates his desire to engage and interact with the viewer and make the artist/viewer relationship integral to the artwork. 

Self-Timed Portrait asked visitors to calculate their life expectancy based on actuarial tables of the time and to subsequently deposit in the top receptacle a number of photographs of themselves that equalled the estimated number of remaining years. Each photograph they deposited represented one year of the participant’s past life. The selection of images was then arranged from the most recent to the earliest. Over the course of a year one photograph imperceptibly drops down from the upper hopper and disappears through a slot into a welded steel box. The clock counts down the number of hours the participating subject of the portraits has left to live. Dean notes that  “as the piece counts down, the photos display a younger and younger you; you get older and the photos get younger. The piece really becomes a confrontation with self – what am I doing – how much time do I have left? Where did I come from – What have I done?” Created with late 20th century technology and in a more contemporary vein this work nonetheless poses questions evocative of Paul Gauguin’s “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? “

The themes of mortality and memory, are central to Dean’s work and are frequently embodied by the presence and agency of objects and snapshots.