A Whole New World: Dani Dodge’s “Personal Territories”
by Genie Davis
Exhibition runs through August 5
Dani Dodge’s stunning installation at MOAH Cedar in Lancaster delves into a world of dreams and time. These Personal Territories are beyond the borders of ordinary maps, leading viewers into a constellation of memories and dreams. Dodge describes the large, room-size installation as mapping her own “history of home,” and encouraging visitors to consider their own intimate stories.
The room-size installation features both video and sculpture. A transparent vinyl bed stuffed with plastic wrap floats from the ceiling as if on clouds. Video images and photos of Dodge’s family are projected on sheeted walls. The soundtrack is that of Dodge’s own pencil, scratching sketches, also projected, of her parents in photographs. Mattresses line the floor of the installation, ready to receive visitors’ footprints as a kind of testimonial to their presence. Beneath the bed lie white-painted shoeboxes, some with hidden kaleidoscopes’ for viewers to find and peer through. Mattress casings are used to create large, square blocks. A series of rough white blocks and pencils are provided by the artist for viewers to use as personal memory cubes. An inflation of cool air swells a canvas sheet on which instructions are written “Write a memory on a block. Hide it in a shoebox.”
Viewers are entering a joyous but trance-like space, illuminated by a soft glow, with materials either white on white or transparent, cool as drifting into a sweet sleep yet riven by the dreams and desires in our heads. Dodge has created something that is both an elegy to the past and a dreamlike projection of the past that could have been, or a choice between the two that Dodge says is each viewer’s to make.
The artist conceived of the idea as an extension of her previous installations that “conceptually explore identity, formation of identity, as well as the foundation and fragility of home. Likely due to my previous occupation as a journalist, my art also deals with truth, hidden truths, transparency and opacity. Thus the use of vinyl, plastic wrap and organza in the piece. And the video where the images of my parents from my teen years appear and disappear only to be drawn but drawn a bit out of kilter,” Dodge relates.
The poetry of the room – and both visually and emotionally it has the perfect, slightly surreal edge of a poem cast in pearl-colored light – harkens back to a poem Dodge holds dear, by Emily Dickinson, Tell All the Trust but Tell It Slant.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
“This work also extends my use of a bed as a metaphor, and bedding materials into a new realm,” Dodge explains. “For instance, the cubes are made of the skins of mattresses, something I have sutured and painted in the past, as well as projected video upon. This time, though, I created large empty cubes with them. Also, most of the floor became a mattress: thick foam covered by muslin, stenciled with a mattress pattern. And the footprints that people leave on the ‘mattress’ are memories of the people who were there.”
Dodge says that the materials she used and the work’s conceptual intent are “completely intertwined.” Which came first is a chicken and the egg idea for the artist, whose materials fully inform the work.
Speaking of materials, the hidden kaleidoscopes are a lovely, additional dream-like touch that evokes not only childhood memories but the playful visual childhood tropes in all of us.
“The kaleidoscopes were made by modifying a simple kaleidoscope-making kit for children. I substituted vintage wallpaper for the shiny exterior provided, and used my own references to home to create the designs within each of the kaleidoscopes. I typed words that I would have used to describe home in my teens, and how I would describe home now.”
Dodge says that conceptually, the idea was that people would discover the kaleidoscopes as they placed their own, self-created memory blocks in the shoeboxes. “They would look into them and see not only bright shiny images but also words. When they rotate the kaleidoscopes, they see a jumbled poetry. The hope is it helps them reflect on their own memories of home.”
Dodge’s memory blocks themselves have a strong tactile appeal – to write on them is to feel a surface that in and of itself seems to be something that memories are made of – touch, emotion, feeling.
“Within the exhibition, people are invited to share their memories on 2-inch wood blocks. I wanted them to have a haunting, ghostly feel. Nothing slick. Nothing manufactured. So I tried out 6 different brands of spray paint until I found one that felt just right for the project,” Dodge says.
Interactive elements are always such an important part of the artist’s work, and they certainly are in this installation. Occasionally, these elements are utilized in other works to come.
“Sometimes I use the remains of previous installations in current work. I have burned fears written on wallpaper and thrown burdens written on rocks into the ocean. At this point, I have no plans for people’s memories except to store them in shoeboxes. At some point, though, there may come a project that requires the collective memory of home to make it whole.”
Ethereal and engaging, Personal Territories is profoundly ready for exploration, and well worth heading to Lancaster to experience.
The installation, which opened June 17th, will continue to engage viewers with four additional events outside the museum space during the show’s run, designed to engage the desert community in a dialogue about everyone’s personal territory.
Personal Territories: Joe Davies Heritage Airpark – Saturday, July 1, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Personal Territories: Prime Desert Woodlands – Saturday, July 8, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Personal Territories: LA County Public Library, Lancaster – Saturday July 15, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Personal Territories: Western Hotel Museum – Saturday, July 22, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Exhibition runs through August 5.
The exhibition itself is located at 44857 Cedar Ave in Lancaster; regular museum hours are 2-8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.