Artist Harry Dodge Captures the Mysterious Workings of Memory and Coincidence in his First Book ‘My Meteorite’

At once memoir, studio diary and futuristic consideration of artificial intelligence, this is no ordinary Künstlerroman

Harry Dodge, BIG BANG (Song of the Cosmic Hobo), video still, 2016. Courtesy: the artist

A successful sculptor, performer, video artist and filmmaker, Harry Dodge further enhanced his polymathic credentials this year by publishing his first book. My Meteorite (Or Without The Random There Can Be No New Thing) is a log of coincidences: a sympathetic taxi driver who appears exactly when he’s needed; two lovers, 3,000 miles apart, each using the word ‘voluble’ for the first time in the same evening; the discovery of eight copies of Virginia Woolf’s gender-morphing novel Orlando (1928) on a library shelf on 11 June 2016 – the day before Omar Mateen shot 49 people dead at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida. The most extraordinary coincidences, however, relate to Dodge’s birth mother. When he moved to San Francisco from suburban Illinois in the mid-1980s, Dodge knew only the name of the woman who’d given birth to him there 19 years before: Donny Molloy. On his first day in the city, he and a friend ride a streetcar, eventually arriving at the former Beat haven of North Beach. There, they encounter a row of bars. One, with ‘big orange letters on a shingle barely visible through the cheesy, slowly whorling miasma’ catches his eye. It’s called The Lost and Found. Staring at the sign, Dodge wonders if this is the place where his mother might be.

Fifteen years later, in 2003, Dodge locates Molloy through the internet. In the interim he has run the legendary cafe and event space Red Dora’s Bearded Lady and evolved as a performer and filmmaker. (His 2001 ‘queer buddy’ movie, By Hook or By Crook, is, in part, the story of a child searching for a birth parent.) They meet at a Chili’s Bar & Grill in San Jose, where Molloy now lives. Filling him in on her former life in San Francisco, she mentions a bar she practically lived in with her girlfriend: ‘Pearly and I drank at The Lost and Found,’ she says. ‘That was our place for decades.’ During the same conversation, she also tells Dodge the name of her favourite book, an obscure science-fiction novel about a runaway adoptee called The Dreaming Jewels (1950). Of course, this happens to be Dodge’s favourite book, too.

 
Harry Dodge, My Meteorite (Or Without The Random There Can Be No New Thing), 2020, book cover. Courtesy: Penguin Random House

Harry Dodge, My Meteorite (Or Without The Random There Can Be No New Thing), 2020, book cover. Courtesy: Penguin Random House

 

Dodge doesn’t extrapolate from these uncanny correspondences, as viscerally attuned to them as he is. Rather, he sees them as examples of a kind of cosmic jackpot: ‘flows of events in which every other possible event is simultaneously happening in infinite other worlds’. A sense of simultaneity and infinitude shapes My Meteorite, which is at once memoir, studio diary and futuristic consideration of artificial intelligence and algorithms. In dated entries, Dodge recounts life moments in associative clusters rather than by linear occurrence. Within the book, as in the soup of consciousness, everything is happening all at once; there are no fixed states. In the opening pages, Dodge’s father has just died; at various later points, he is faltering from dementia, arriving in a box as cremated remains and dancing at his retirement home like Elvis. The recursive nature of the text captures the workings of memory and evinces a high-pressure, poetic approach to narrative and language that is also evident in much of Dodge’s raucous and extremely funny video work, such as jump-cut heavy, fourth-wall defying Mysterious Fires (2016), in which Dodge plays a form of machine intelligence conversing with a monster-masked doctor about the future of the human species.

Indeed, this book is hardly structured as a Künstlerroman. (Dodge’s earlier life and work, though fascinating, are sparingly invoked.) Still, we are told that, on a 1977 trip to The Art Institute of Chicago with his mother Phyllis, Dodge encountered an unidentified red transparent Plexiglas box ‘so glowing, so perfect and idiotic’ that it made him want to be an artist. In one of the text’s clearest arcs, which revolves around an ill-fated acquisitions committee visit from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Dodge learns, without warning, that a sculpture of his has been acquired for display at the museum. Initially reticent, he eventually goes to visit with his two sons and spouse, the writer Maggie Nelson. In the same permanent collection room as his piece is another version of the red Plexiglas box – a 1990 sculpture by the artist Rachel Lachowicz – this time cast in lipstick. 

Harry Dodge, Mysterious Fires, 2016, video still. Courtesy: the artist; performer: Cay Castagnetto

Harry Dodge, Mysterious Fires, 2016, video still. Courtesy: the artist; performer: Cay Castagnetto

More than his story, Dodge furnishes us here with the philosophical basis of his art and life, drawing from a wide range of thinkers that include political theorist Jane Bennett, anthropologist Eduardo Kohn and poet Fred Moten. A deep materialist, Dodge believes that everything ‘is a result of the behaviour of matter, i.e. mind is computing with meat’ and sees the self as a much more permeable organism than it would at first appear. This notion of self most likely accounts for Dodge’s generous portrayal of how ideas and influences circulate within a community, detailing conversations and social interactions with other artists alongside intimate family moments. Though Dodge describes himself as hermetic, he pushes himself towards this ‘relationality’ to see what it will yield, ‘to find [him]self in the heaving maw, the protean, flowing hemorrhage of universal energy’. The titular meteorite, which Dodge purchases on eBay, becomes a kind of mascot – or instigator – for this exchange: a 4,500-year-old magnetic rock, shaped like a heart, and made out of a star.

 

Kate Wolf is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles, USA.

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