Visiting a Jason Dodge exhibition is like a journey in which imagination is your compass and the limits of time and space expand. If this is true of presentations that take place in small galleries, it was even more so in the spacious rooms of the Kunstverein Hannover, where Dodge presented his most comprehensive show to date. In an almost circular path that led through five rooms, a selection of works from 2004 to 2010 seemed to be floating in the institution’s immaculate white space under only natural light. Grouped together following more or less close associations, or left alone in rather mysterious isolation, these works revealed themselves as fragments of a larger plot as elusive as the exhibition’s title: ‘I Woke Up. There Was a Note in My Pocket Explaining What Had Happened’.
Dodge’s works usually consist of objects or groups of objects that have undergone different stages of manipulation or transformation. Some have been slightly altered: emeralds inserted into the body of an owl (Emeralds Inside an Owl, 2009); undeveloped photographic paper exposed at sunrise on the vernal equinox in eight different places around the world (Into Black, 2006); flutes stuffed with poison hemlock (one of them titled Poison Hemlock in an Alto Flute, 2009). Others have been fabricated under the artist’s instructions as described by the work’s title: In Lübeck, Germany, Mariele Scholtz Wove a Piece of Cloth. She Was Asked to Choose Yarn the Color of Night and Equalling the Distance (12 km) From the Earth to Above the Weather (2008). Works also originate as elements removed from domestic spaces: different devices that produce light were taken from a house at the edge of a forest in Sweden and strewn across the floor (Darkness Falls on Källhamra, 646 96, Stjärnhov, 2009); a long copper pipe traversed the exhibition space to be connected with the water system on the roof (Your Death, Submarine, Copper Pipes Connected to Water, 2009). Only recently has Dodge presented objects in the form of pure ready-mades, as in the case of pillows that have only been slept on by doctors (The Doctors Are Sleeping, 2010).
In Dodge’s work, objects act like carriers or relics of actions that took place elsewhere, in a distant time and place. Often the artist acts as a kind of transmitter of a signal that takes the form of instructions or requests to perform a certain action or manufacture a particular material. The action produces an object – a work. The work embodies an elusive and often poetic narrative, the veracity of which viewers aren’t quite assured. Evoking an action that took place somewhere far beyond our gaze, the evanescence of a natural phenomenon or a mental image, these objects reverberate with an absence that produces a sense of permanent longing. Dodge’s work is imbued with constant references to the world of natural phenomena, alchemical processes and the way materials, actions and stories are possibly interconnected. Many of his works represent a world sustained by an infinite web of associations: materials that transmit energy, animals that transmit messages, objects that transmit images, musical instruments in a state of potentiality, and so on. Seen together, his works reveal a coherent formal sensibility that combines an almost decadent elegance with an attention for materials and objects revealed in their own bare or raw states.
Dodge’s practice straddles two distinct sensibilities: on one side, pre-Romantic and Romantic thinking, from Friedrich Schelling to Novalis; on the other side, the legacy of Conceptual art, embodied especially in its most poetic representatives (Robert Barry and Lawrence Weiner come to mind). The two movements seem occasionally to merge in Dodge’s practice, if we think about the important role that poiesis plays for both of them. The creative instant, the indeterminate level of artistry, poiesis must be provoked or evoked by very synthetic means. If Conceptual art removed or distanced the object or the event to an unreachable ‘elsewhere’, alluding to it solely with texts, maps, schemes and instructions, Dodge makes the object the emotional conductor that unfolds a narrative or activates an image. It is surprising and compelling to see how the allusive fragility of the stories and the objects Dodge uses in his practice don’t lose any of their imaginative power or intensity in a large-scale exhibition such as this one.
First published in Issue 132