Dani Dodge’s Fugitive Love Song
by Genie Davis
Artist Dani Dodge works with themes that surround identity, forgiveness, and social justice. Creating installations that are often immersive and include video, painting, and performance, she’s recently expanded her “canvas” to include public works in the street, often guerilla in approach with a positive intent. She’s been creating works on both the east and west coast for a while now, but this winter, the Los Angeles-based artist has managed to be two places at one time.
Her solo show, Fugitive Love Song is closing at A.I.R. Gallery in New York Sunday, and she’s co-curating as well as exhibiting at Durden and Ray in Los Angeles with a show that opens December 2nd.
Asked how it feels to work on both coasts, Dodge calls herself “honored to exhibit. While my heart is LA, my soul is New York. I love both places…”
Noting that it can be difficult to be part of an artistic community without living in that community at least part time, Dodge says she knows where her focus and “true community” is: Los Angeles.
Nevertheless, her show at A.I.R. was a culmination of a yearlong guerilla art project conducted on both coasts in 2016.
Describing its genesis, she says “At the end of 2015, I was deeply despondent. The fact that people could take then-candidate Donald Trump seriously after his misogynist attacks on Rosie O’Donnell, Carly Fiorina and Megyn Kelly caused me to question this country I love. His obsession with beauty pageants also concerned me. He had owned or co-owned three beauty pageants: Miss U.S.A., Miss Teen U.S.A., and Miss Universe. And if women gained weight, he shamed them, including one Miss Universe who he called ‘Miss Piggy’ after she put on a few pounds. People thought he was presidential material? I was struggling. I knew others were as well.”
In response to that struggle, Dodge wanted to do something. What she did was send out messages to other women that read “#Just the way you are.”
“Each day, I posted it somewhere. I used lipstick, spray paint, markers and printed flyers. By distilling a potent message of affirmation through this iconic song lyric, I tried to insert small, fleeting moments of joy into people’s lives. Some of the messages were momentary, like a message I wrote on the wrapper of a straw that I left on the counter at Starbucks, or the message I carved into the sand at a beach, which the surf washed away,” she relates. “These unexpected ‘fugitive’ moments of encouragement were intended as a momentary refuge from a judgmental world. Because, if there was ever a time for a sappy love song message to be shared with other women in the world, this was it.”
For the artist, it was worth it to occasionally cross the legal line when posting her messages. For example, she wired huge flowers emblazoned with “Just The Way You Are” to barbed wire fences, scrawled the message with Sharpies on abandoned sofas, and posted flyers over “Do Not Post” signs.
“I avoided defacing personal property, while trying to post the message in unexpected locations where passersby would happen upon it,” she explains. “Over the year, I saw taggers write over my messages, but others stayed for many months. I never expected to do anything with the messages, but I did document each one.”
That changed when the staff at A.I.R. Gallery expressed excitement over the project.
“I knew I had to use it for my solo show at the Brooklyn gallery, and continue to spread the message in a new way,” Dodge says. “So, I printed out each of the images in one of three sizes. I then sewed groups of them together in ‘clouds.’ I wanted the exhibition to have the feel of the randomness, just like how the messages were placed around town. I wanted the ethereal, temporary, messy feeling of clouds. The stitching harkens back to the communities that supported each other in quilting circles.”
She also created an “unlimited edition” of #Just The Way You Are flyers that people could take home from the gallery. There were signed and numbered.
“The idea of this project from the beginning was to share a positive message with people in difficult times” Dodge says. “So, as part of the show I didn’t want to sell anything. I wanted to give people something they could take home and put on their mirror to remind them they are beautiful.”
Dodge was thrilled with the reception her show received in New York, and says it was wonderful to feel support on the opposite coast. While she doesn’t have a venue in L.A. just yet, Dodge says she would love to present the work here as well.
In the meantime, Dodge is co-curating the upcoming exhibition at Durden and Ray with artist Alanna Marcelletti. The show, Static, investigates what Dodge calls the electric buzz of communication and its effect on the tellers and the receivers.
A panel discussion on ‘Fake News, Real News and Trust in Journalism’ will kick off the run of the show at 4 p.m., December 2nd. The panel will be led by Emily Goulding, who consults for the Institute for Nonprofit News, and includes Sara Catania, who recently launched JTrust, a newsletter that collects and curates the latest efforts to restore the public trust in journalism, and Robert Hernandez, a USC Annenberg professor whose focus is exploring and developing the intersection of technology and journalism.
Artists and journalists creating work for the show include Lili Bernard, Jennifer Celio, Molly Crabapple, Jose Galvez, Emily Goulding, Kio Griffith, Ann Elizabeth Moore, Danial Nord, Sean Noyce, Max Presneill, Walter Robinson, Steven Wolkoff, and Samira Yamin.
The show seeks to examine the impact of information that hums like static through news and social media.
“Often it is set off from a tweet by the President. Other times, it is a mass shooting. It is unyielding and overwhelming. While the initial excitement of the most current event dissipates and the adrenaline rush wears off, the tempest of information is inescapable,” she says. “So, the idea of the show was to bring together journalists, and their art, and artists who are remarking on the rush of information provided. It’s an incredible lineup.”
Among the distinguished journalists who will contribute to the discussion through their art are New Yorkers Molly Crabapple, whose recent pen and ink work explores scenes from daily life inside ISIS-controlled Mosul; and Walter Robinson, the former news editor of Art in America and founding editor of Artnet Magazine. His paintings are based on images from department store flyers that are inserted into newspapers.
“I’m super excited about what artist Danial Nord will bring to the exhibition. His work reinterprets the familiar language and trappings of mass communication. I consider him one of the leading artists in Los Angeles today, and I can’t wait to see his installation that incorporates televisions and political sound bites inside the gallery,” Dodge adds.
Additionally, Dodge herself is creating a piece on the journalism side of the show. The artist spent two decades as a newspaper reporter, which included covering the Iraq War in 2003. She also was part of a team that won a Pulitzer in 2006.
Being a member of the Durden and Ray collective has affected Dodge’s own work, she says. As an individual artist her focus is on creating installations and interactive performance pieces, including the work she did this summer with the Lancaster Museum of Art and History. Her solo show “Personal Territories,” included a room-sized interactive, immersive installation focused on the development of personal identity as well as four interactive performances in the community, such as at the Lancaster Library where people told her their life stories and she created titles for those stories that she typed on library index cards. The “titles” are now a book in the museum’s collection.
As a member of Durden and Ray her focus is more global.
“I enjoy the camaraderie of being part of a collective, and being part of Durden and Ray’s commitment to creating tightly curated groundbreaking shows, often with an international component,” she says. “So, I am pushed to explore processes and materials that are more conducive to group shows that can be shipped across the globe. That informs my practice and my larger installation pieces.”
Along with the upcoming Durden and Ray exhibition, Dodge is excited about her residency and solo show at Shoebox Projects in Los Angeles. The residency will run January 15 to February 18, 2018, with a reception on Sunday, Feb. 18.
A.I.R. Gallery – 155 Plymouth St, Brooklyn, NY – through November 12th.
Durden and Ray – 1923 S Santa Fe Ave, Los Angeles – opens December 2nd.
Shoebox Projects Gallery – 660 South Avenue 21 #3, Los Angeles – coming January 15-February 18th.