“Destruction is a prerequisite for creation,” Jennifer Dodson told me when we sat down for an interview last week. Her latest show, Psychosomatic Unity, takes a polysemic approach to that idea by employing destructive processes to depict the obliteration of a human mind. It’s dark, but Dodson is unafraid. A textile designer and printmaker by trade, Dodson has turned that fascination with destruction into a thoughtful exhibition exploring the stages of atrophy and degradation caused by neurodegenerative diseases. She takes an auto-destructive approach to her printmaking by purposefully using materials that degrade during the process; she allows her inks to bleed out and her paper to buckle. Her prints (all monotypes) can never be replicated exactly again; they’re abstractions of a moment, feverishly communicated with scrawled handwriting and splashed ink. While unsettling in their reminders of the frailty of the human mind, Dodson’s works are remarkable for their eloquence.
Don’t miss the show’s Art March opening this Friday, May 2 at 6pm. In the meantime, check out the rest of our conversation for more about Jennifer’s work, influences and her cure for artists’ block.
Kayla Goggin: Can you tell me a little about your background?
Jennifer Dodson: I’m Jennifer Dodson. I’m from Dallas, TX. I’m a textile designer and printmaker.
KG: How long have you been printmaking?
JD: I started a couple years ago and I really enjoyed it. My fibers work is generally not good to mediocre; it’s alright. But I really got into print processes. It’s so physical, you have to be very into it and it’s almost like a workout. I feel like I express so much energy in what I do. I come in ready to work, ready to go, and I’m throwing stuff around everywhere so I think that’s pretty evident in the things I do. It’s very unrefined. When I came to SCAD it felt like [I had] raw talent, like “I’m ready, I want to do things”, but sometimes it’s like “Does she know what she’s doing?”
KG: I think a lot of people feel that way. You’ve got to work to take that raw talent and turn it into something more refined which can be a long process for some people. So, were you a fibers major or printmaking major?
JD: I graduated with a degree in fibers and I got a minor in printmaking. This last quarter I just did this suite of prints that you see here. This series is all about neurodegenerative illnesses. I cut out some stencils of my handwriting and [ran them] through the press. They get destroyed and they crumple up and they get ink on them so they create prints that are compositional and not necessarily readable. The background with that is that someone close to me was sick and she was an artist. She could paint and draw and her old journal entries have immaculate penmanship. No one can write like that. So as her brain shriveled up essentially, she couldn’t write anymore, she couldn’t speak any more. It was really just a degradation process.
KG: And you could see that in her physical handwriting?
JD: Yeah, so you can see this physical representation of the gap in communication. Instead of an external thing it’s internal – to the point where you can’t read your own writing or understand your own words.
KG: On some of these prints you can read the handwriting so I’m assuming that was a conscious choice. Is that stuff that you wrote or did you pull it from other places?
JD: Most of it is my writing, but there is one piece with a letter that someone sent to me. A lot of it was done with my left hand. Have you ever done that thing where you mirror your handwriting? You look at what your dominant hand is doing and you mirror it with your other hand. So you can kind of read it but it’s really wonky.
KG: This kind of sounds like a test that a doctor would give someone with a degenerative disease to figure out how far along they are. Have you ever done any research into the medical end of this?
JD: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. I looked at brain scans. I did prints of a normal brain and one with holes in it – that’s the brain with Huntingdon’s disease. One of my friends’ moms recently died from ALS and she was communicating with her eyelids. She couldn’t even write any more. She had to go through this stage where you can’t use a pen. I’m not sure if in my future work I want to explore this any more. It was a very heavy topic for me personally. It’s kind of depressing. My friends back home ask me, “Jen, do you ever paint anything happy?”
KG: Paint anything happy? That’s boring.
JD: Yeah. It was almost masturbatory in this way. Like “I need therapy so I’m going to make art about something that’s personal to me. So that was kind of weird, like do I have permission to make art about something that’s important to me? Cause I don’t know how much it affects you, or someone else. I don’t know if it speaks to you.
KG: These are monotypes? Can you explain what that is and how that works?
JD: A Monotype is a printmaking process but you can only do it once. One of my professors described it as “You did it. You like it. But you don’t know how you did it.” A lot of it is uncopy-able. Technically you could copy these but not in the exact same fashion. Some were stencils where I rolled some ink onto a plexiglass slab, then I put a stencil down, then I put some paper down, then another stencil so I’d run like 3- 4 pieces of paper through at once. The ink seeps through and makes different things and the stencil makes kind of an engraving in the paper so the paper buckles.
I also did paper plate lithographs. You take a piece of paper and you print something on it. I printed a picture of a brain just with an inkjet printer, stuck it in the oven to set the ink, put gum arabic on it, then took a sponge and sponged it on. Water doesn’t stick to where the toner is so you roll oil on it.. This is a really trashy process. Paper is like the lowest of the low. When you roll the ink on the paper kind of gets destroyed so the paper got rolled up and there’s even more holes in the brain.
KG: Like you said this is a very physical process, very messy. I was reading your artists’ statement where you talk about destruction as a prerequisite for creation. I love that idea. Did that come from somewhere? Were you influenced by something else?
JD: A couple years ago we did a show called “Destruction As Prerequisite” and that was kind of early on my studies. I’ve kind of always found a way to break something down. I think breaking down an element is necessary to create something in anything. I feel like how I work is very brash and harsh and destructive in a way.
KG: You’re breaking down a lot of the materials, and even the technique a little bit. You’ve said you run over your sketchbook?
JD: For a class we had to do drawings and I hate drawing so much so I didn’t know what to draw. I thought, “Hm. How can I make a drawing?” So I put some chalk in the sketchbook and rolled over it so I had the tire print and also the chalk making an image.
KG: I just love the visceral image of how you’re creating everything. Just for fun – do you have any favorite artists?
JD: Yes. I actually met this guy named Koichi Yamamoto. I’d been stalking his work all quarter and I went to a conference in California for printmakers, SGCI, and I met him! I’ve also been really into Yves Klein’s fire paintings, Albrecht Durer, Cy Twombly.. And Xu Bing – he did a tobacco installation but he works a lot with language. He made some calligraphy, it was english letters but he arranged them in such a way that they looked Chinese and no one read it. I think he’s hilarious and clever.
KG: Let’s talk about your supplemental events. What are you going to be doing?
JD: A demonstration. This is tricky because I don’t know logistically what I can bring here. I was thinking about getting a slab of plexiglass or something and hand printing things.
KG: What do you have planned next?
JD: I’m moving to Dallas. I just got an internship with Alloy Rugs so I’ll be designing rugs, which sounds like the dream. That’s kind of the job that you want to get in fibers. I’d also really like to continue showing my work. I heard a statistic that when people graduate with their Masters their last show is their thesis show. 80% don’t show again. I want to keep making work.
Psychosomatic Unity will be up on view at Fresh Exhibitions until May 10. For more of Jennifer’s work, check out her website: http://www.jendodson.com/