We’ve all heard of the tortured artist — a detrimental trope that not only romanticizes and undermines poor mental health, but also promotes the assumption that the best artist must live in a constant state of torment. Surely, painful sentiment is useful for fueling one’s creativity. Just ask Welsh native and Glasgow local Eden Dodd.
“Tragedy, darkness and loss are key pools of inspiration that I regularly draw from within my own practice, as they are a well that never runs dry for visual and conceptual material in this vein,” their online statement reads.
However, the idea of the tortured artist stands in disregard to the good things that can actually arise from self-expression.
Dodd’s latest collection of work, titled “Death Throes,” is currently exhibited at the University of Connecticut’s Contemporary Art Galleries, an educational and inspirational space provided by the department of art and art history. CAG was happy to host Dodd for a virtual “Artist Talk” session on Oct. 28, where the artist gave audiences a walkthrough of the materials that inspired their project, as well as overviews of certain pieces from the collection.
With a name as grim as its own, “Death Throes” is far from being cheerful. Each piece is made out of mirrored glass, cut and pieced together to form illustrations of medieval symbols, including knights, armor, maces, dragons and even (my personal favorite) ancient contraptions like a bear trap. The collection also features a “Self-Harm Series,” a line of seven differently designed helmets, each with a defined fracture in the material — a clear metaphor for brokenness.
“I guess the helmets specifically were about the idea of masculinity and the passing down of a broken or shattered suit of armor which is, you know, masculinity — something that’s passed down to us traditionally and it doesn’t work if it’s not fit for purpose,” Dodd said in an interview. “I was really struggling with my own masculinity and I guess I was making these masks and these visors and these helmets and these weapons because they were aspects of masculinity that were violent and vulnerable that I couldn’t really translate. But this kind of language did allow me to translate it.”
Dodd’s gender identity in particular was a concept that influenced the collection’s inception.
“I was doing a lot of work around masculinity at the time because I hadn’t quite come out as trans just before,” Dodd said. “I came out as trans in April and I was working on this in September of 2020. So, I just started making these mirrors, and I was really interested in the idea of them being kind of like vessels that you pour aspects of yourself into and you can see yourself in them. It’s not always been concerned with medieval, semiotic languages, but this project kind of lent into that.”
Dodd’s vision for “Death Throes” came out of a trying time for everyone. When lockdown was reinstated in Glasgow in October 2020, Dodd found themself confined to the studio in their bedroom, where they began each day by waking up, eating breakfast and making mirrors until they went to bed. Despite the mundanity of their daily routine, stir-craziness turned out to be the least of Dodd’s problems, especially as they became more and more convinced of their feminine identity.
“This person was like, ‘How did you not go insane? Because you’re just looking at yourself all the time,’” Dodd said. “And I said I felt more sane than I ever had before, like, weirdly? I mean, the gender identity is so clear because I was looking at myself everyday and I didn’t like what was looking back at me in the mirror. And COVID anxiety was really bad and I was really worried about death and dying, and I think I realized that I was really worried about not having lived — like dying without having lived as the person that I have always wanted to be.”
CAG’s description of “Death Throes” includes an interesting line that suggests how a primitive concept as medieval imagery can actually relate to modern societal characteristics: “Weaponry, knight’s armor and maces are the vessels that carry Dodd’s messages as they ask us to look at fractured reflections of ourselves within medieval symbology.” Although the symbols themselves are characterized by their affiliation with the Middle Ages, much of Dodd’s source material came from technological resources.
“For example, video game cultures or Internet image board cultures like places like 4chan or weird, strange, esoteric websites with messages and creepypastas and stories and things from literature,” Dodd said. “And when I kind of touch on these things or utilize them in my work, they’re not very recognizable. I guess the medieval imagery was a way of concentrating and condensing this wide — all these influences and rhizomatic, fractured body of research and experiences that I was channeling into my work in a way that is recognizable and understandable for other people.”
They continued by examining the theme of cartoon violence imbedded in the collection, which served a much greater purpose than just stylistic reasoning.
“So, I was trying to really pull in, again, this idea of mythology and this idea of personal mythologies and utilizing them as a reference point for wider ruminations and critiques of capitalism and the world we live in now,” Dodd said. “Like people, you know, chopping their arms off; the idea of self-destruction; the ideas of removing oneself, wearing masks, facades; the idea of dragons being decapitated as metaphor for depression or suicide. It was all these ideas of these quite foreboding, dark concepts, but they were all hidden beneath this veneer of cartoon-like, medieval imagery. There’s a lot going on under the surface, I guess, that I was trying to touch on.”
As immersed in their work as they are now, Dodd has arguably desired to be an artist for all of their life. Short-lived ruminations of being a doctor or a teacher were apparent during childhood, which Dodd owes to an inherently hospitable nature.
“I think I realized that when I start talking about depressing stuff in my work and traumas, etc., I was trying to kind of act as a surrogate or substitute in this idea of showing people that you can come out of trauma and deal with it and move on from it, theoretically,” Dodd said. “Being an artist, you can really help people in a way that maybe they’re not fully aware of, especially if you put your ‘dirty laundry out,’ so to speak. You’re showing other people that it’s okay to have those feelings and to feel validated.”
Perhaps Dodd is a tortured artist, considering their artistry is practically a porfolio of the personal struggles and traumas they’ve faced. But even in dark times like the COVID-19 pandemic, Dodd was able to emerge with a clearer understanding of who they are and how they intend to spend their life — a feat they were able to achieve through “Death Throes.” Their motive to promote healing through their work has managed to carry them down their desired path, and will likely do so as their creativity continues to flourish.
“I guess I’ve always wanted to be an artist, but maybe I’ve always wanted to be someone who helps other people,” Dodd said. “And I think art was the most effective way I could see myself doing that.”
The “Death Throes” exhibition will be on display until Dec. 5 at the UConn Contemporary Art Galleries. Visits are made by appointment only. Be sure to email firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in scheduling a visit.