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JUSFC Meet Our Grantees Series: Alex Dodge – Carpenter, Artist
April 13, 2017
With degrees in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design and in Interactive Telecommunication from NYU, Alex Dodge’s work combines the promise of technology as it interacts with and shapes human experience. He focuses his attention as an artist between new media and traditional fine art disciplines including painting, printmaking, woodworking and sculpture. His work is in the collections of the Museum
of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Dodge was awarded a JUSFC Creative Artist Fellowship in 2016. He traveled to Japan in October 2016 to pursue his interests in technology and traditional woodworking.
On the technology side, working at a pure code level led him to create generative systems that can build self-evolving sculpture and other art. Dodge put his ideas into motion by experimenting with language, writing code for programs that would generate new words that were statistically similar to real words but did not have any meaning.
“I took a Japanese language class in high school and fell in love with it,” he explains. “Using Japanese as my model, the idea was to create an empty container of meaning that could be experienced much like art.”
These language programs evolved into physical, visual forms, generating billions of unique shapes, similar to Tetris shapes that self-formed and assembled based on the conditions of their environment.
Dodge combined this fascinating project with his interest in Japanese joinery, a form of traditional woodworking. Two years before, he had contacted several well-known Japanese master carpenters to propose creating joinery entirely of wood.
He met Kudo Itsuo of Kudo Komuten in Osaka, who builds traditional and contemporary Japanese structures. Dodge spent three days working with him using traditional hand tools and joinery techniques.
He also met master carpenters Koichi Murata and Norihisa Ishigaki of the Ise Shrine and Akinori Abo of Koubokusha during his time in Japan. Abo in particular has been a great supporter of Dodge’s work. The pair spent time together building structures with hinoki, a type of cypress wood native to Japan.
On December 8, Dodge presented an artist talk with the International House of Japan (IHJ) in Tokyo, addressing the complexity of creating physical art objects in the age of digital networks, and how evolving technologies continue to reshape the role of the artist as a cultural agent.
IHJ, a JUSFC partner, assisted Dodge with an open studio for the public as well. On December 26, Dodge showcased ten new paintings and the sculpture he had created. Asked about any challenges he faced during his fellowship, Dodge said acquiring a studio and space that was functional, in terms of sourcing, was difficult. His work requires digital tools like laser cutting. In addition to improvising and using new materials, he luckily found a makerspace with tools he needed.
Dodge’s advice to future grantees: “It’s really important to understand what you hope to accomplish in Japan. Make a lot of initial contacts; if I hadn’t met the master carpenters two years prior to my fellowship and made a strong case for my proposal, I may have missed this amazing experience.”
“I also met many wonderful people due to unexpected changes in plans,” he added. “Use your time well but be adventurous and open to change, and most importantly, do as much groundwork as you can.”