Art exhibit at Joshua Tree National Park explores growth, loss and new life of iconic trees – Daily Bulletin
No one can accuse Dani Dodge of not putting her feelings into her art.
The Los Angeles-based artist captured hearts with discarded mattresses which she spray-painted with messages of love as a way to process her husband’s death. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, she floated paper boats hanging from trees on her neighborhood boardwalk, delighting children who watched them sway in the breeze.
“I’m much more of an artist who feels what’s going on and tries to translate it. It becomes my art,” Dodge said Wednesday, March 30.
In her latest exhibition, “Embracing the Incarnate”, she filled the Black Rock Art Gallery in Joshua Tree National Park featuring 18 surreal, distorted and framed images of the famous oddly shaped trees, often intermingled with blurry images of family members blundering their gnarled branches with outstretched arms and bowed feet.
The exhibit tells the story of the artist-in-residence at Mojave National Preserve from 2018 to 2021, where she took happy videos of her family with the trees, and then after the August 2020 dome fire burned near from a million Joshua trees, his images transformed to their destruction and finally, with the ongoing replanting, to reflections on survival and hope.
“We’ve seen such devastation, not just in these Joshua trees, but in COVID and now in another war,” Dodge said from his Los Angeles studio on Thursday, March 31. “There must be hope for the Joshua Trees and there must be hope for mankind.
Learn from trees
Dodge’s exhibit says more about it than the iconic trees. She personifies them, seeing them as friends locked in a struggle for survival, just like humans.
“For me, they are souls. They are gods. They are nature incarnate and I capture their struggle to survive deep within my soul as if it were my own,” she wrote in a description of the exhibit.
The images are photographs printed on transparencies, with different aspects painted with 24 carat gold leaf. “They are slightly quirky and surreal. It’s really more about what you feel than what you see,” she said.
In the first two years, before the fire, some footage shows his niece and sister mimicking the shape of a Joshua tree. In late 2020, an image shows darkened bark and charred branches against a golden background. Another is that of a lone tree, bending over, dying, scratching the scorched earth.
In the 2021 images, there’s more shimmer, like the image of star-shaped leaves painted gold but centered in black. “The gold spikes represent hope, hope that they might come back,” she said.
Eight saplings hang from the ceiling of the gallery. These inspired a replanting effort which literally took root March 4-13 during a volunteer planting day in the Mojave Preserve, which actually has more Joshua trees than the nearby national park.
In the reserve and the national park, the Joshua tree is a marvel of nature. At a maximum height of 40 feet tall, they only live at limited elevations. Without nectar, they depend on the tiny yucca moth for pollination. Their fragility leads botanists to believe that climate change could wipe out 90% of its native range in California around the year 2100.
“The journey of the Joshua Tree kind of parallels my journey from tragedy to recovery to hope,” Dodge said.
Art imitating life
Dodge lost her husband of 20 years in 2019. Mark Dodge Medlin died of brain cancer. She took time off from the residency and the exhibition finally opened on February 27 and was extended until April 29.
During her mourning, Dodge created “Eavesdropping” by putting 30 messages on trashed mattresses. Ten messages from dating sites, 10 made-up love lines from movies, and 10 quotes from her late husband. The last mattress was that of the couple. She took photos of the installation and exhibited them at Golden West College in Huntington Beach and the Pom Pom Gallery in Sydney, Australia.
“People have fallen in love with these mattresses. People have slept on these mattresses, lived their lives and often died on these mattresses,” she began. But what does that mean?
“You have strange lives and then love goes. Or does love go on but life doesn’t?” she offered, leaving him open to interpretation. But one thing she was sure “I was the one dealing with the loss.”
In 2015, his art installation/performance “CONFESS” at the Los Angeles Gay Pride event had people confessing their worst sins to him, which had them typed up and hung on the wall.
“People have been validated because people have been listened to. I was able to ease their burdens,” she said. In 2017 in New York, she used paint, lipstick and markers to stick the message #justthewayyouare, an affirmative phrase to women feeling ashamed of news of presidential candidate Donald Trump bragging to fans. a TV host that he could grab women by their private parts.
“I meant ‘as you are,’ you’re fine,” Dodge explained.
Why has she turned to nature as a material over the past three years?
Especially to get away from the reminders of everyday life, the angst of the global pandemic and the bombardment of media messages. She spent 19 years as a member of the media, reporting for the Ventura County Star, including a stint embedded with troops during the Iraq War. She later was on a team with the San Diego Union Tribune and shared a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering illegal activity involving Representative Duke Cunningham, who pleaded guilty to accepting at least $2.3 million. bribe dollars.
“I turned to art because it had a more abstract nature. Maybe I thought I could reach people’s souls, well, reach them in a different way,” she said.
Dodge grew up in the Bay Area and lived in San Diego and Los Angeles until recently moving to Pasadena. She loves the Inland Empire, where the art world is “sort of finding its own.”
She became an artist in residence to reflect the world of nature. She was chosen in part because her artwork would highlight the Mojave Desert, Gabriel Thorburn, a volunteer with the Mojave National Artists Foundation, said Thursday.
After viewing the exhibit, he said the National Park Service made the right choice. Dodge was one of 10 artists chosen.
“With his exhibit in particular, it gives the viewer a way to reflect on the fragility of our surroundings, especially these magnificent Joshua trees, which have been around for thousands of years,” he said.
Staring in solitude
When she was on the Mojave reservation, Dodge brought her a sketchbook, pens, an iPhone, and a camera. “I just found a rock I can sit on and I’m sitting there. I just am,” she described.
Like many hikers or campers, merging with nature brings mental health benefits. “So many of our lives we rush from one thing to another. We don’t have time to have moments with everything around us in peace. I need moments like that,” said she declared.
At first it was hard to see life in the Mojave Desert. When she focused her lens or pointed her pencil at the Joshua Trees, these inelegant monsters of nature that seemed unreachable became something special to her.
“You realize how incredibly beautiful they are. And their survival is the lesson I learned. They live in a restricted environment, a narrow band of elevation. Yet they go on. They go on, despite everything.
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
What: “Embrace the Incarnate”, by artist Dani Dodge
Or: Black Rock Art Gallery, Joshua Tree National Park, in the Black Rock Nature Center, 9800 Black Rock Canyon Road, Yucca Valley
Hours: Seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Details: The exhibition runs until April 29