This is 5 Questions. Each week, we send five questions to an artist featured in Under the Radar, our weekly email highlighting the best art on the ArtSlant network. This week we seek answers from Caroline Dahlberg.
What are you trying to communicate with your work?
Intimacy is the word that comes up a lot. The work I make is tactile, it wants to be touched. I think a lot about social scripts and contracts, like how you know the right moment to kiss someone on a first date. There are a lot of cues and situations and intuitions. Although, in terms of intimacy, I’ve always felt that there’s a huge lack in daily life. I’m looking to make up for that a bit and figure out situations that make people feel very close to or reassured by other people and things. Once you see how close you can get to something, it’s hard not to notice the distance that proper social behavior asks for. I saw a photo a while back of a pair of feet intertwining their toes and immediately felt like the skin between my toes wanted to be touched.
Therianthropy, 2016, Performance, props, sound
What is an artist’s responsibility?
I’m still working on educating myself as an artist and viewer. I do feel that it is important to be responsive and sincere. I feel that it is important to embrace discomfort and be affected by it. I remember a description from Anna Tsing’s Mushrooms at the End of the World in which she describes the concept of contamination as being vulnerable and changed by something else. Of course, I don’t think this means being without convictions. It’s not enough to just feel compassion. In Susan Sontag’s On the Pain of Others she calls compassion without action impotent. Responsibility means creative adaptability. Creating new methodologies for action and representation.
Show us the greatest thing you ever made (art or not)?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this bone I made for a larger installation, The Hypochondriac’s Wake. I like that it’s illustrating a self-dissection and a whole acknowledging the sum of its parts. I think there will be more work in that vein to come.
The Hypochondriac's Bone. Photographed by Caroline Dahlberg
Tell us about a work you want to make but never will:
It’s hard to think of a project like that. Maybe because I’m early in my career, but the “never will” seems like a definitive end. Like I’m supposed to leave something floating around after I pass away. An “afterlife” myth of an artwork.
With all my projects, I think a lot about what’s implied beyond what is there. When I write a line about merging past skin and drop oil into water, I like to imagine the tip of someone’s finger passing through someone else’s hand. Not in a sort of magic act illusion kind of way, but also with the sensation of feeling muscle, tendons, and bones spreading apart to allow for the finger to pass through. Likewise, feeling the pressure of an appendage invading and how one’s hand might adapt to accommodate for it. I like to imagine bodies becoming malleable and adaptive.
Perhaps that’s the work I want to make, but won’t: simulating a way of existing past one’s limits, slithering into a zone beyond our bodily lives, perceiving/feeling the next mutation take form. Like thousands of years of bodily adaptations all at once in a matter of minutes, with time drawn out just long enough to savor the intensity. Like a tree that grows through the links in a fence and engulfs it.
To Pieces, 2017, Video
Who are three artists we should know but probably don’t?
I’m cautious about assuming what people don’t know, but here are a few artists who come to mind that I would love to see get more attention:
Shaye St. John is an artist that I think about often. Her videos and the anonymity around them feel like an urban folklore.
I also was able to see a performative lecture by Alok Vaid-Menon, which was incredibly powerful.
Clarice Lispector also comes to mind. She’s a writer, but her writing is notably visual and sensuous.
—The ArtSlant Team
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(Image at top: Boundaries and Fluids, 2017, One-on-one performance)