Butting heads with modes of control

Yeezy Boost Balls, 2015

Royal Academy Installation View

Limpid and Salubrious, 2016

Gangling Bambusa, 2016

Still from Limpid and Salubrious, 2016

Whippy Snaggle Stack, 2016

A$AP Ferg, 2016

January 4, 2017

From confidence to consumerism, Elliot Dodd takes on the dominant forms of authority that govern contemporary culture

Elliot Dodd deals in oppositions. Squaring up against the things that anger him about the world, his work competes with the various modes of control that have a grip on us all. Today, it’s the overconfidence and blanket forms of authority that dominate politics, financial systems and gender that rile him. Whilst once, as he tells me, he might have resisted any impulse to engage with the dominant constructs that he so resents, Dodd has reached a new epoch in his career as an artist in which he is willing to face his demons head on, prepared to humiliate himself in order to challenge, compete and defeat them.

Having worked as a practicing artist since he graduated from Slade in 2002, this new chapter has primarily occurred over the last three years whilst studying as part of the Royal Academy’s esteemed postgraduate degree course. Growing restless of the art world, luxury consumerism, economics and politics, yet remaining frustratingly loyal to their draw, he finds himself perpetually at odds with himself. “I feel much more confused about my work than I ever have done,” Dodd explains. “I’m constantly having a binary conversation where I’m doing stuff I really enjoy and think is beautiful but at the same time I hate and find frustrating.”

It’s the feeling that that internal conflict elicits, the feeling of constriction by looming external forces, that his series of impossibly resolved pencil drawings attempt to illustrate. Yeezy Boost Balls (2015), Gangling Bambusa (2016) and General Droop (2016) are a few of the logo-like drawings through which Dodd tries to deal with the curious contemporary condition of crushing inflation, the feeling of something being crushed, he explains, whilst sharing at the same time the sensation of being inflated to the absolute limit. “Those sensations are analogs for what I was saying about politics, economics, gender” Dodd continues, “they are diagrams of the way those things might make you feel restricted, compressed or spun around.”

Dodd’s drawings share both the final polish of a commercial campaign and the playfulness of a distracted teenage boy’s school notebook

No matter how close up these pencil drawings are inspected, they fail to break down, remaining impossibly detailed. Approaching the task of creating them as a designer would, Dodd’s drawings share both the final polish of a commercial campaign and the playfulness of a distracted teenage boy’s school notebook. With the same defiance of both a powerful corporation and a teenager, Dodd’s range of works, whether drawings, video, sculpture or digital animation, exist, as he explains, “in the self-made fantasy that I am a company with different arms, speeds and modes of production.”  

There are two other distinct instances in Dodd’s portfolio in which this fantasy most explicitly reveals itself: Limpid and Salubrious (2016), his 4k digital film, and the accompanying BMW motorbike installed in the Royal Academy School Shows 2016. As the high-definition cinematic camera finds an electric BMW car prowling English woodland, soundtracked by thudding techno, the film swells to the grandeur of a luxury car ad, only to be disrupted by absurdly animated talking heads that recite ‘a poly-gendered discussion about personal appearance’ from Jane Eyre. The branding in both the film and the installation is unmissable, brash in the context in which they sit. Interested in the negative feedback he received from audiences who found the prominent BMW logos in the film uncomfortable, Dodd has since been exploring the use of the brand as another material. 

It is in the challenge of getting people to lend him luxury goods, such as a factory-new BMW motorbike for display at one of the world’s most prestigious contemporary art schools, that he has found himself dealing directly with the very companies that his work is in essence opposed to. He has had to become well-equipt in the art of bullshit, or as he continues, “it’s about becoming limber in knowing which elements of the practice are attractive to who.” This artist has learnt how to play the game then, the game of two sides, whereby he must manage his simultaneous repulsion and attraction to dominant cultures such as consumerism, hypermasculinity and slick aesthetics, in order to come to terms with them.

He must manage his simultaneous repulsion and attraction to dominant cultures in order to come to terms with them

His latest artistic engagement with the corporate world is in Virtually Real, the upcoming collaborative pop-up project between the virtual reality platform HTC Vive and the Royal Academy Schools. RA graduates Adham Faramawy and Elliot Dodd, along with final year student Jessy Jetpacks have spent the last few months making a piece of work using the drawing and sculpting software on the HTC Vive. Their creation has since been 3D printed and will be on display at the two night exhibition 12 January to 14 January 2017, creating both a physical presence in the room and a virtual presence inside the headset.

Whilst the software these artists are using is certainly novel, VR technology remains uncharted territory. With very few artists or hackers having manipulated the boundaries of this software before, this is a testing ground as much as anything. For Dodd though this is familiar ground, inasmuch as his comfort zone is outside his comfort zone. “I want to distort things and fuck them up in order to understand them,” he tells me.

He does this in Ice-Cream Man (Grabber) (2016) and Ice-Cream Man (Daytona) (2016), a pair of thin sheets of steel, which he then UV printed with high-resolution images ripped from the most oversexualised and misogynistic music videos. It is through this method of ripping, distorting and manipulating the aspects of contemporary culture that he finds most contentious that he attempts to comprehend them. “I guess that’s something across all the works,” he wonders, “I try to get ahold of stuff and force it to be a material that I can make work for me.”


Buy tickets for Virtually Real at the Royal Academy here. For more information on Elliot Dodd visit his website.

Virtually Real
Testing the limits of virtual reality as a tool for producing physical works of art are three current and former students of the Royal Academy Schools in this exciting new project from the RA and HTC Vive
Virtually Real
RA student Jessy Jetpacks and graduates Adham Faramawy and Elliot Dodd have been creating works of art using HTC Vive for the past few months. Experience the final product in its physical form inside the Royal Academy and the virtual inside the Virtual Reality headset.
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