To the uninitiated, Jason Dodge's exhibition "We Are the Meeting," opening today at New York's Casey Kaplan Gallery, might appear to be a collection of unconnected, lost objects. At the door is a paper bag full of organic groceries. As the visitor walks into the gallery she sees a lightning rod and a white chimney lying alongside each other; an electrical cable whose plug lies in an aquarium full of water; and a brass shaft running along the floor and containing poisonous hemlock seeds. There's also an installation of rose and white fluorescent lights that are constantly being changed out by the gallery staff, so that the room's illumination frequently changes color.
But once the Pennsylvania-born, Berlin-based Dodge himself begins to explain the work, the logic behind the exhibition (through Feb. 22) begins to reveal itself. "It has to do with what we live with," Dodge told A.i.A., "what is in the landscape of things that are made by people."
The bag of groceries is thus not just a bag of groceries—rather, Dodge, 44, explained, it is actual food we choose to put in our bodies as well as a symbol of our interconnectedness with the world. Identical mobile phones with SIM cards that Dodge had his friends collect from various locations to which they traveled—Mongolia, Georgia, Israel and Brazil—also highlight the way that the vastness of the world is compressed in the products we consume.
The title of each work is descriptive—North: A chimney points north, for example, and The Mayor is Sleeping: A pillow that has only been slept on by the mayor of Nuremberg. They tell the viewer exactly what the object is, and nothing more. "The work being passive is very important to me," Dodge explained. "I see the people who come to the work as conduits rather than receivers."
Many people may come into the exhibition and not get it. But a few will see, for example, the work made up of a stick of deodorant and a pile of tissues, and find their own meaning. For Dodge, the work arouses melancholy. "It's about the idea that we're covering up sweat, preventing it from happening," he said. But he doesn't expect others to see that in the work. "There's far more potential in not saying what it's about," he says.
Among the artists of his generation, Dodge most identifies with poets, which is part of the reason why he recently began fivehundredplaces, a printing press for poetry books by the likes of Carl Phillips and Matthew Dickman. Although he himself didn't draw the comparison between his work and poetry, there are similarities between the exhibition and a poem. The latter can be a brief set of four or five lines that a reader comes upon in a moment, and feels inexplicably connected to. Dodge hopes that certain viewers will have a similar experience with his work. "To be an artist, you have to say something no one else can say in the way you're saying it," he explains. "That's the part you can't learn."