Performance and installation artist Dani Dodge has a solo exhibition coming up December 6th at
LA Artcore’s Brewery Annex. Dodge, a former journalist, presents a vivid dissection of the emotion of fear through her installation, titled Peeled & Raw. Relating experience through abstraction, the artist tells pointed, poignant stories in her works.
Dodge began pursuing her art while she was a working journalist covering the Iraq war in 2003.
“I was a newspaper reporter embedded with the Marines on the front lines when I realized that I couldn’t express everything in words,” she relates.
Always a vociferous reader and writer – as a fourth grader, the school librarian revoked her library pass to encourage her to play with other kids – Dodge was also drawn to the visual arts even while working in journalism. “I was the one who wanted to eat at Olive Garden so I could draw people’s portraits on the paper tablecloths.”
Dodge was invited to cover the Iraq invasion after the assignment was turned down by a reporter not eager to be on the front lines. Unlike her peer, Dodge didn’t hesitate to take the assignment.
“I was eager to share the lives of our men and women at war with the world. As we drove in silent nighttime convoys through the country, without headlights, we often had only words. Only stories. And I wrote them every day. Stories of calamity. Stories of heroism. Stories of second chances,” she explains. Her experiences evoked a culture upended, and she began to realize that the articles she wrote were only expressing a small part of the story. “We made it to Baghdad before the city fell. Bullets flew over our heads. A land mine blew up next to our camp. All around me were severed limbs, broken families, dead bodies. I knew I could no longer rely on sentences and paragraphs to convey the bravery and tragedy I saw around me. I needed more to express the conflicts of the world, and the conflicts within my own soul.”
So Dodge turned to art. “I came back from Iraq knowing I needed to find another path to tell the stories of the world, and the stories of my own soul. One of my co-workers took watercolor classes at an art studio. After going to one of her shows, and seeing the vibrant, expressive work of her teacher, Phyllis Doyon, I decided to learn watercolor.”
After taking a variety of classes in life drawing and other basics, Dodge was compelled to work in mixed media, then assemblage, and finally installation art. “Each move was prompted by the need to create something that would have even more impact on the viewer, who would eventually become the participant as my work evolved,” she says.
Dodge considers herself an installation artist, one who also uses interactive performance and video in her works. Currently, along with the upcoming ArtCore show, the artist has pieces at Oregon’s Coos Art Museum, and at the Halloween show MASque at Los Angeles’ Temporary Space.
Dodge describes her exhibitions. “My installation, (un)burdened, at the Coos Art Museum is on view through December 5, 2015. It features fragile vintage birdcages stuffed with heavy rocks and piled on the museum floor. One wall is covered with a white mixed-media painting that incorporates bandages and sutures. Videos dance on window screens: birds flying, planes lifting off into the air,” she says. “Visitors follow the instructions and pick up a rock from the pile near the door. They feel its weight, its smoothness, its capacity. They write their own personal burden on it, then walk across the room and put it on a pile of other rocks, also written with words such as fear, poverty, and inertia. A ‘boulder’ floats above them. When the show is done, I’ll take each of the burdens and hurl them into the ocean. The event will be recorded and later viewed on the museum’s website,” she explains. The idea behind the show is that people will leave their viewing (un)burdened.
Just as the Coos Art Museum show ends, the installation at LA Artcore Brewery Annex, Peeled & Raw, will open, running December 2 to 27 – with an opening reception from 1 to 3 p.m. December 6th. “With Peeled & Raw, visitors enter what at first glance could be a normal living room. There’s a couple on the couch watching a DIY home show on TV. There is a window, and pictures hang on the walls. But everything is covered with wallpaper. Everything. Even the couple. The program on the television is ‘How to Beautify Your Life with Wallpaper.’ Each layer is another attempt to change who we are and what we show to the world, and to hide the thing that frightens us the most.” Dodge has made this, too, an interactive installation.
“Visitors enter the room and use their fingernails to pick off edges of the wallpaper and peel away strips. Underneath the wallpaper, they find even more. Layers upon layers upon layers of attempts to hide imperfections. Each layer seems to lead to an older and older vintage wallpaper,” she describes. Dodge believes that by allowing viewers to participate in the exhibition and pick away at her installation, they’ll work at shedding their own fears. “People can write their fears onto the strips of wallpaper they have removed and leave them in a vintage garbage can. At the end of the exhibit, I will gather up all the fears, put them into a burn barrel, and torch them.”
The profound meaning behind this installation is the exploration of fear. “It gives people a way to name it, confront it, and shed it. The installation at the Coos Art Museum explores burdens and how to remove them from our soul so we can fully live. The piece I am creating for MASque Attack, a one-night group show, examines the fluid nature of how we see the world,” Dodge attests. She plans to use mirrors to plunge the viewers at MASque Attack into the piece.
Dodge says all three exhibits are similar in the intent to create moments, rather than objects, a purpose the artist finds easier creating a room-sized installation, rather than a small piece. “With a room-sized installation, I can surround the viewer with images,” she notes.
As a former journalist, Dodge finds herself employing journalistic techniques such as investigative reporting in her art. “In my performances, such as “CONFESS,” which I did for LA Pride 2015, I use my interviewing and listening skills to help people understand themselves better. In that work, I put up a confessional in a three-sided space with walls of black cloth. People ‘confessed’ to me, and I typed those confessions onto gold paper. The anonymous confessions were pinned to the walls. By the end of the weekend, the room had gone from black to gold with outpourings of heartache. Participants told me the experience transformed them,” Dodge explains.
However, sometimes Dodge’s journalism background hinders her work, she says. “After so many years of not taking a side, always being impartial, it can be tough to make bold political statements with my art. So instead I delve into what makes people human.” Such a choice results in focused, highly emotional and releasing work. The artist admires other large scale, visionary artists such as Swoon, Mark Bradford, Banksy, and Ai Weiwei, who, like Dodge, are not afraid to tackle fraught themes and topical scenarios.
The artist says many of the issues she wants to present come from the world she sees around her.
She is concerned with big-picture questions such as what most ails society itself, and how to address issues such as these. Just as resourceful with her art as she was working in journalism, Dodge creates exceptional visually and thematically powerful installations following her intent to “create moments, rather than objects.”
Dodge says she considers such subjects in her subconscious mind. “I’ll sleep and wake up with ideas on how to accomplish each piece. Often, it will require a technique I had not previously employed, such as video. So I pick up a video camera, sign up for a class and figure it out.” Her technique is to first envision all the pieces necessary to create her vision, then map it out on paper. “I’m always adjusting the plan until that final day of installation,” Dodge says.
Living and working at the Brewery Artist Complex in downtown Los Angeles provides the artist with “the perfect place to create and dream. “My studio encompasses the bottom of our 1,200-square foot apartment while my husband, my two dogs, and I live in the upper 400 square feet. It’s a very industrial space with concrete floors, scarred walls and a tin roof that roars when it rains,” she says.
To see the dreams and creations Dodge envisions unfold, visit the artist at www.DaniDodge.com, LA area residents and visitors should check out Dodge’s December show at LA Artcore Brewery Annex, 650A S. Ave. 21, Los Angeles, just east of DTLA’s central core.
- Genie Davis; Photos: Dani Dodge