13 April—15 June 2024

Danielle Dean

Out of this World

Drawing from archival records and materials like film and advertising, British-American artist Danielle Dean produces bold environments to ground and enliven her research-based projects. Her multidisciplinary practice examines historical representations and contemporary conditions of labour, racialized identity, and popular culture through projects that are often produced collaboratively with community members whose experiences bring crucial perspective to the work.

Commissioned for her solo exhibition Out of this World, Dean’s new film is a portrait of Hemel Hempstead, where she was raised and unfolds as a personal essay on the town’s history as a planned community under the New Towns Act of 1946. Titled Hemel, the work’s central reference is a 1957 sci-fi horror B-movie shot in town about the arrival of a non-human entity that infiltrates the minds of residents and endangers life with a toxic black slime. Playing a composite character based on herself and the movie’s detective protagonist, Dean’s extraordinary vantage brings together real and imagined worlds, both past and present.

Filming in 16mm with an ensemble of non-actors and family, Hemel blurs fiction and documentary to expand a critical reading of the colonial overtones in the original movie, while recasting its visual language to consider the race, class, and labour dynamics of a small English town in the post-Brexit context. As she excavates recent events, historical archives, and personal histories that have transformed Hemel Hempstead, an encroaching dark flood, a growing shadow, a rising plume of smoke build layers of mystery throughout the work. Rows of identical housing, uniformed workers, and emptied lots signal an eerie tone within the mundane, drawing connections between the post-war ideals of the development corporation that established the town, and the mega-corporations shaping life and industry today.

Cinematography, Editing & Production by Vuk Dragojevic.

Danielle Dean: Out of this World is the seventh project developed through Mercer Union’s Artist First commissioning platform, and Dean’s first institutional solo exhibition in Canada


Danielle Dean is an interdisciplinary artist whose work explores the geopolitical and material processes that colonize the mind and body. Dean has developed commissioned projects with the Wellcome Collection in London (2023); Tate Britain, London (2022); and with Performa 21, New York (2021). She has presented exhibitions at ICA San Diego (2023); The Contemporary Austin, Texas (2023); Midnight moment, Times Square Arts, New York (2023); The Whitney Biennale, New York (2022); and Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (2018). Dean holds a Master of Fine Arts from California Institute of the Arts, and is an alumna of the Whitney Independent Study Program.

Hemel (2024) is co-commissioned by Mercer Union, Toronto; Spike Island, Bristol; and The Vega Foundation. The film is produced by LONO Studio and made possible with the generous support of Patrick Collins, Jill and Peter Kraus, Patrick and Daniela Schmitz-Morkramer, and an Anonymous Donor.