My Ugly/Beautiful Friends by Dani Dodge at Shoebox Projects
Opening reception: 3-6 p.m. Sunday, March 31, 2019
Open during Brewery Artwalk April 6-7 and by appointment
Closes: April 14, 2019
In “My ugly/beautiful friends,” Los Angeles artist Dani Dodge uses sculpture, video and mixed media works to create an installation exploring adaptation and survival.
Her muse is the Joshua Tree.
The early American explorer, John C Fremont, who first mapped the Oregon Trail, described Joshua trees as “the most repulsive tree in the Vegetable Kingdom.” But Dodge fell in love with these otherworldly plants as she began a residency in 2018 in the Mojave National Preserve. She was inspired by their strangeness, their symbiotic relationships, and their sensitivity.
“I spent every day of two weeks visiting the Joshua trees and getting to know them on an individual and personal level,” Dodge said. “I was fascinated by the bold, frightening shapes they created against the desert sunrise, and captivated by the warm, beautiful stories they told beneath their spikey exterior.”
And, I was deeply inspired their ability to survive within a very small area of Earth, while feeling devastated by the knowledge that the species could be decimated within my lifetime.”
Climate models have shown that this iconic plant, which exists only in the Mojave Desert region of the US between 1,300 and 5,900 feet elevation, will lose 90 percent of its range in eastern California by 2100.
Basically, the Joshua trees, which grow to more than 40 feet tall, reproduce and disperse too slowly to keep up with climate change. They have survived this long because they developed a shallow network of roots, that spreads about 18 feet around each plant to suck up the infrequent rainwater.
Without nectar to attract pollinators, Joshua Trees rely solely on the tiny yucca moth for pollination, a creature that at first appears unassuming but on closer inspection sports unique bizarre, tentacle-like fronds from its mouth. And the yucca moth depends on the Joshua Tree for its survival.
Over Dodge’s time in the Mojave National Preserve, and also during a 2019 residency in the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve in Lancaster, Calif., Dodge continues to get to know these plants, who she now considers her friends.
“Like many of my human friends, they have a tough exterior, but a sweetness within,” Dodge explained. “They need us now and with this exhibit I hope to bring more awareness of their plight.”
In the exhibit, she deconstructs the Joshua Tree spikes into separate stories of survival, love, and loneliness. She deconstructs photos of the plants into a scribbled S.O.S. on their behalf. And she constructs a powerful installation that shows ugliness and beauty are as symbiotic as the Joshua Tree and the yucca moth.
- Kristine Schomaker