I am an installation artist who creates immersive, interactive environments that incorporate video, paint, and sometimes performance. My work incorporates the elements of the story arc in a visual form.
The installations layer the domestic detritus that informs our interior architecture. Elements such as wallpaper, screen doors, and mattresses are combined with a painted diorama or video that becomes a symbol for exterior possibilities. Eyeglasses and mirrors focus the work back on the viewer. Spurred to acknowledge their secrets, burdens, desires, or fears, participants become a part of the art.
The scenes are novels that are experienced instead of read, with connective lines created from each participant’s individual memories.
My work is influenced by the storytelling of tableau-makers such as Robert Rauschenberg and Edward Kienholz, and inspired by the poetry of Tara Donovan’s material transcendence.
By Peter Frank
In the several brief years she has worked in installation formats, Dani Dodge has broadened the range of meaning invested in her works – and the ways in which that meaning is conveyed. Stark and palpable, her earlier installations told specific stories, conjured sharply recorded memories, drew the audience into stage-set-like setups that provided context to dramatic narratives in which viewers could, effectively, sense themselves featured. Dodge’s more recent pieces, no less physically expansive, no less rich in their mix of materials and their provocative conjunctions of objects, work more mysteriously. They no longer depend on the viewer to bring them to life. Now, engaging as they do fleeting images and episodes on portable video playback units (specifically iPads), they activate themselves. They are built and organized as generously as before. They still welcome the spectator in as a visitor, even though these constructed “places” are now already inhabited. But now Dodge’s tableaux bear witness to human activity that plays and replays in place.
With their incorporation of iPads playing back sequenced video loops of potent images, Dodge’s recent installations become immense contextualizing frames for intimate thoughts and activities (intimate both in scale and in emotion). Where necessary they partially obscure the moving images, and in essence become filmic: the static elements of the installations obscure the kinetic elements more or less depending on the viewer’s vantage. The visitor, you could say, becomes her or his own camera, taking in the variety of the scene from a single, if continually fluid, viewpoint. One angle of observation may reveal an incongruous juxtaposition of what seem to be semi-precious jewels hung near industrial discards. Another angle may allow a relatively clear view of the iPad screen, tucked into an armchair and encased in a grill (apparently modified from a kitchen appliance) so that even direct confrontation of the screen does not permit unobstructed apprehension of the video element.
Dodge’s particularly self-contained new works often present themselves almost as much as sculpture as installation. They all assemble abject and discarded objects, but they don’t all reformulate them into enterable quasi-habitats. In this regard, Dodge’s work has taken on a new sculptural integrity, a self-possession that prompts greater formal unity and balance among the disparate materials and devices. Less so completely preoccupied with telling, or activating, stories, Dodge now explores the poetic resonance of familiar things. In their own open-ended, even metaphoric qualities, the videos support rather than argue with this new-found sense of the concrete: where before the objects were the fixed elements and you were the variable, now the iPads are the fixed elements, the relations between given things the (implied) variable, and you behold this shifting dynamic – from shifting standpoints.
Dani Dodge has moved from prose – and theater – to poetry. In its intimacy, its distilled use of language, and its solitary voice, poetry is less about events and more about conditions. This in essence describes Dodge’s trajectory, from “places” where things happen (and you help them happen) to “moments’ where things happen to, at, and before you.
By Peter Frank
We presume that an artist’s work is in some manner autobiographical. In fact, art is not about its makers, but about their world. Even a self-portrait is an observation, a look in a mirror, as well as behind it. For the artist, art is not about feeling — that’s the viewer’s job — but about seeing and making. In a sense, artists function as reporters of a kind, serving to focus our attention on the phenomena that grab their interest.
In this respect, Dani Dodge’s experience as a journalist — not least as a war correspondent embedded with the Marines in Iraq at the time of the invasion — was a key part of her training as an artist. Her experiences, in war and domestically, have provided her endless fodder for her artwork. But so has her experience. Time and again, she was given the responsibility of regarding events and situations before and around her and conveying — not just describing, but portraying — them to her readers in a way that brought them to life, if possible, but at least told the story of their happening.
Every artwork tells a story, goes the saying; this may or may not be true, but every story is an artwork, and should be told with convincing eloquence and riveting immediacy. This was one of the main takeaways Dodge brought with her from the newspaper to the canvas — and one of the things that prompted her ultimately to go wide, to expand well beyond the canvas to the arena of the installation. Employing collage and assemblage techniques, Dodge got past the limitations of rendering materials like oil and pastel, giving her depictions a tough, gripping substance dependent as much on physical as on pictorial presence. In this, Dodge readily admits to the influence of tableau-makers such as Robert Rauschenberg and Edward Kienholz. In fact, she tempers Kienholz’s furious witness with Rauschenberg’s poetic melancholy, coming up with an approach — part montage, part architecture, part sensuous materialism — that hews even closer than did theirs to the art and craft of the stage set.
Dani Dodge’s installations suggest stage sets in that, even when barring us from entering them, they require our presence, and/or the projected presence of someone like us, to tell their story. They are about individuals who are the kind of people we are likely to know or at least encounter, whether soldiers or office workers, children or the poor.
If Rauschenberg began with himself and Kienholz began with headlines, Dodge begins with others and with the kinds of imagery we see less on page one than on page 22 or in the middle of magazines. But these “others” are absent, only hinted at, and in a sense when we witness Dodge’s tableaux we are invited to imagine ourselves part of them, to imagine ourselves the others we behold. Her installations are too physically vivid, and yet too pictorially empty, to act as dioramas (which is how at least some of Kienholz’s works function); rather, they act as eternal moments, snapshots of anyone’s life. And you’re the anyone.
Peter Frank is adjunct senior curator at Riverside Art Museum, associate editor of Fabrik magazine, and an art critic at The Huffington Post.