Laura Dodson, Deception (2008), 70 cm. x 50 cm.; courtesy Gallery 7
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Brooding, deeply romantic and suffused with portent, Laura Dodson`s recent photographs are markedly distinct from her previous bodies of work. Certain pictorial characteristics remain: ambiguous and theatrical spaces; an occluded symbolism; and centralized images that propel themselves into our purview with mute and sometimes threatening insistence.
Dodson’s considerable technical expertise is ever reliable, particularly her jeweler’s-style attention to detail. She revels in the intricacy of textures–the suspended clumps of hair, especially, are brought into exquisite definition. The palette is saturated, dreamy and dour; its smoky sonorities allow for muted runs of ghostly light.
However, the new photos, collectively titled Still Creatures, are different in emotional temper from the past ones. The shift is devastating. Bereft of Dodson’s cerebral distance, they are almost unbearably intimate. They trade in distressing and un-nameable states of mind. That we recognize them all the same speaks to Dodson’s uncanny ability to clarify physical sensation and psychological tension.
What are we to make of the disquieting range of objects submerged within her murky tableaux? Dodson’s liquid environments, sometimes bubbling and seemingly infinite, are nothing if not reliquaries. Inorganic stuff–dolls, cellophane, a kitschy pair of flip-flops–is no less dead than the birds, fish, flowers and insects splayed across each composition. Disembodied hands are the sole indicators of muscle; even so, they pose and gesture with eerie lifelessness.
The importance of Dodson’s artifacts lies in the memories they still. A sneaking strain of Surrealism informs the photos, as does an odd, almost Victorian constraint. We don’t doubt the imagery’s acerbic expressiveness, but it is, all the same, held in check. There’s something chaste about Dodson’s haunted evocations of loss. They’re upfront but muffled, simultaneously to the point and withholding. Feelings are contained for fear, perhaps, of overwhelming the viewer and, one intuits, the artist herself.
Artifice is, in key ways, Dodson’s metier. The photographs are blatantly staged; their pathos contrived, though no less real because of it. She seems to employ a sense of humor that stops just short of campy. Her nostalgia is rich enough to make you wonder if she isn’t putting one over on us–the artist isn’t above indulging in extravagant showmanship. Certainly, Dodson’s redoubtable sense of irony filters through the images, but not to the extent that we are kept from marveling at the contradictory feelings she has so decisively brought to fruition.
© 2008 Mario Naves
Originally published in the catalog accompanying the exhibition Still Creatures exhibited at Gallery 7, Athens, Greece.