Sure as the most certain sure, plumb in the uprights, well
entretied, braced in the beams,
Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,
I and this mystery here we stand.
- Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
Waking and dreaming life brush up against each other constantly. When we arise each morning, rubbing sleep from our eyes like so much pollen, we are compelled to share our dreams out loud. We want to carry them with us out of the ether, but something is always lost in translation- you and I were in this room, but it wasn’t this room, and it wasn’t you- and that failed resolution keeps a dream’s afterimage behind our eyes all day.
To try and recount the narratives in It Equals Light and the Unknown is similarly inadequate to experiencing the work itself. One hundred and forty characters will not suffice. Each moment of video represents a world of possibilities reaching out like the dendrites that traverse our brain, and it that way, Stephanie Dodes’ videos very much imitate life. But it is the life that rubs against the day-to-day, pollinating our metaphysical existence, often while we sleep. It is in that life that our desires speak in their own language, and need no translation.
The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.
Our desires are central to who we are, but desire can be counter-intuitive. Sometimes, the more we define the boundaries of our identity, the more embarrassing seepage inevitably occurs. The alternative is to become more permeable, and map the currents as they move through us. Release. Give us over to ourselves, instead of forcing ourselves into a life like it was a glass slipper. For various reasons, this is about as easy as taking a punch without flinching. We need to be tricked into letting go of our scaffolding. We need absurdity to tickle us until we do.
We need absurdity to remind us that life is absurd. To put it another way, sometimes the only way to truly see something is sideways. Absurdity brings home hurtling truth through the use of extremes and affectations that confuse our natural defenses: our bias, our cynicism, our manners. Dream logic, like a Zen koan, like this work, operates as such. It is not the abject absurdity of pornography, which in an already screaming world is just a scream in an unfamiliar pitch, but a sublime absurdity based on the most immeasurable of landscapes: the interior self.
Through Dodes’ use of luscious production value, it pulls the rug out from under our consciousness like so much psychedelia. The worlds of Everything for Nothing and Veiled Shadows are simultaneously spare and teeming, sparse and sensuous. By doling out haptic and scopic pleasure in fits and starts, Dodes allows the viewer to bring their own sense memories and associations into the spaces left behind. Let’s face it: in the ever-increasing clutter of contemporary life, mental space is as dear as physical space.
If only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful.
-Rainer Maria Rilke, “Letters to a Young Poet”
What else in the world is more comforting or more sinister than the sight of our own shadow? Ask any politician: often we violently oppose that which we most fear in ourselves. It Equals Light and the Unknown entreaties us to accept dualities as a holistic experience rather than as an opportunity to define ourselves apart. A commitment to ambivalence characterizes both Everything and Nothing and Veiled Shadows, revealing itself repeatedly and unapolagetically. The constant slippage between referents, narratives, meanings, and moods is indicative of a larger between-ness: the way the artist positions herself in the trajectory of history. For this work is somewhere between Judy Chicago and Vanessa Beecroft, Ryan Trecartin and David Lynch, Pipilotti Rist and Stanley Kubrick. Not either/or, but both/and, the hallmark of the emerging matrixial gaze in contemporary feminist art. This is an art that absorbs, that is roomy enough to hold multiple manifestations of self, truth, and memory. It is an ecology, not a binary.
Our faces all resemble dying roses from trying to fix it
when instead we should break it
- Metric, Patriarch on a Vespa
While our dreams are the stories we tell ourselves about the world, refracted through our own unique and esoteric filter, media retells the narratives of our culture, simultaneously familiar and untouchable. We do, indeed, use less brain activity watching television than sleeping. The screen plays a specific role in both Veiled Shadows and Everything for Nothing, as a point of entry into alternate dimensions where the snakecharmer’s trance of mass entertainment is pitch-bent and remixed to the point of near-dissolution. Through the screen, meaning is not pre-inscribed or guaranteed, but agile, elusive, and flexible. By triggering sense memories, Stephanie Dodes’ work reminds us that we need to let life touch us. It does not, however, provide that touch. Media gives structure, identity, and resolution. Dreams put us in touch with our longing, our lack. It Equals Light and the Unknown shows the emerging voice of a storyteller who rips apart both realms, pulling out common threads and snarling them back together, until the knot has no beginning or end.