Conceiving absences which reveal presences
Here’s a problem with making conceptual art: “An empty exhibition space has such a specific meaning to it. Anything after that work is a decision in the opposite direction.” So muses American conceptual artist Jason Dodge, whose minimal work has been exhibited in (no longer empty) spaces such as the Kunstverein Hannover and who recently created his first permanent installation at Collezione Maramotti, “A Permanently Open Window”. His response to this conundrum is to conjure the magic of the everyday through specifics, reminding audiences of what they aren’t seeing when they look around them. While an absence of stuff might be able to ask, in an entirely unique way, for its observers to pay attention, Dodge’s sculptures ask them to notice the choices of things present – pillows only slept on by one person, a window that is forever open, a room previously inhabited by animals. Audiences look at these things and remember others that have passed them by in the daze of habituality – for example, Dodge describes the feeling of watching someone you’re falling in love with going to sleep and wondering what can be in their head on the pillow. Works that might seem sparse and minimalist on first glance can become almost overwhelming in their ability to poetically allude to how “all of a sudden you’re in a crowded room.”
Dodge’s current work is concerned with the points in the distance to which Greek and Roman statues are gazing, compared to those of German wood sculptor Veit Stoss. This led to his considering Apple’s FaceTime and its relation to the “holy distance” between illuminated manuscripts and their readers. “I’m fascinated by how we can connect to each other over thousands of years via this simple change in distance.”
With these arcane interests at the heart of his practice, Dodge’s studio isn’t exactly a practical work area for him – in fact he uses the space more for making objects for his house. “The studio reflects my life more than my work. My wife and I make almost everything we live with.” His DIY lifestyle meant the artist began to avoid making things that would end up being artworks: “Eventually, my work evolved in a way where actually making things was interfering with what I’m trying to say.” He cites a series of works in which he dictated the length of yarn – equalling the distance from the Earth to above the weather – and gave it to others around the world to weave (namely, “In Swaziland Jane Dlamini and Lomcwasho Jess Mphila wove cotton yarn the colour of night and the distance from the earth to above the weather,” 2011). The result takes its viewers high above, by allusion, but also nods to the universality of design as a human endeavour: “Hand-weaving exists in every culture. It somehow unifies us as people.”
Here, as often in his work, Dodge works to build a narrative that continues to grow in the minds of his audience. This “lightness”, as he calls these conceptual resonances, is often created by the titles of his work. Why the object is there, how it got there and how it was made – these facts take us deep inside the banality of the everyday stuff, creating poetry from it: this is the medium with which Dodge finds the greatest creative cohesion. “The creative people I relate to the most are poets. I read so much poetry that I can’t use language recklessly.”
In fact, nothing seems to be reckless for Dodge, from the placement of works, to his choice of materials, to who makes the objects he displays. Each work has been carefully selected, weighed up, and presented to create something exact. For his upcoming show in Seattle (“What Have We Done” at the Henry Art Gallery, until January 26 2014) he is currently fighting the long list of health and safety requirements: “A lot of the practical work involves protecting the work so that it means what it’s supposed to mean.” What a poetic depiction of a Twenty-First Century artist: a freedom fighter on the side of meaning.
Jason Dodge’s work can be viewed at The Lyon Biennale until January 5th 2014