- Interview with David Dotson by Francesca Wilmott
F: To begin, can you briefly introduce the Pixie series, explain how it diverges from your earlier work, and describe how your recent experiences have informed your current artistic approach?
D: The Pixie series began in Berlin while working at Takt artist residency. While there I was developing new ways of working and became acquainted with many new artists and environments. I wanted to leave my previous work with the BorgDot series behind and go beyond my reactive sentiments towards corporate America. I feel that the BorgDot work, while fulfilling and creative, lacked a connection. It was more a ‘soapbox’ than a solution to the issues it was dealing with. In Berlin I was ready to move in a different direction focused on building relationships and exploring the spontaneous moments that can happen within the collaborative process. I believe that it is in these moments that art is at its most powerful.
F: There’s this play between the specific and the general that runs throughout your work. The Pixie series initially appears more otherworldly than the BorgDot series, however, you actually provide more astute social commentary through working with an individual than through tackling the broader circumstances of corporate America.
D: The idea of the specific informing the greater is very important to me. While the viewer is only privy to the particular photographed moments, it’s apparent they are part of a greater whole. There are more issues and occurrences taking place that are beyond what’s captured by the camera. There’s a relationship happening, an intimacy unfolding within these pseudo-narratives that fosters a connection to humanity. Cultivating that connection to humanity is far more important and beneficial than any critique I could give on the dangers of consumerism.
F: In past conversations we’ve discussed how your BorgDot series was very informed by the work of the Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), a collective that integrates technology, art, and critical theory to comment upon America’s social and political conditions. Established in 1987, the CAE attracted a lot of attention when one of its founders, Steven Kurtz, was arrested after 9/11 for alleged terrorist activities. I think there was something about that moment in time—those years following 9/11—that made it difficult for one not to be reactionary to the sociopolitical state of America. This was seen on both sides of the political spectrum. In many ways the years following 9/11 mirrored the culture wars that took place during the 1980s and 1990s. Guillermo Gomez-Peña said with the fall of Marxism and the collapse of the Berlin wall, society began to perceive change through liminal momentary experiences rather than a sweeping revolution. In many ways, the evolution of your BorgDot series to your Pixie series seems to embody these two approaches of evaluating social change. You’ve moved away from revolutionary critiques on corporate America to individual fantastical retreats, championing the benefits of experiences that can’t be easily quantified.
D: Kurtz was the first of many artists and intellectuals the government and other agencies attempted to strong-arm in those years following the fall of the Towers. You’re right, it was very difficult not to become reactionary in the face of such blatant aggressive censorship. It is always important to push back and critique the systems of power and my work at that time was successful in that endeavor, but for me it was still missing something. For all of its sophistication, the BorgDot series still lacked a meaningful connection to humanity. There was very little ‘hope’ in it, no attempt to formulate an alternative to our approach on technology and consumption.
F: It’s clear the sociopolitical circumstances of a given moment greatly inform your approach to art. How does your physical environment also influence your process and the outcome of your work, both materially and conceptually?
D: The spaces that we photographed in were very important because they created the frame by which all the action is understood. Berlin is a culturally rich city with history in every corner, and while it has been the scene of many dark and tragic events, I believe those events have allowed it to become a symbol of hope and restoration. Tiergarten, where Ruth and I shot the ‘Daffodil’ Pixie series, is a massive green woodland space in the middle of Berlin. Fanciful in its own right, the park offered us the perfect setting to play out a fairytale. ‘TheTulip’ series, on the other hand, was photographed in a cemetery on the east side of Berlin that had sustained quite a bit of damage during World War II. The bullet holes and blown out mausoleums offered a quite different yet equally provoking environment. Finding a location, as historically rich as Berlin, to photograph once back in Ohio might seem challenging but Katy and I decided on Loveland Castle near Cincinnati. It was built stone by stone by an eccentric genius and WWI vet named Henry Andrews. It was the perfect fairyland backdrop for the ‘Castle’ series.
F: You seem to give equal weight to each stage in your process, from sculpting the Pixie bug and coordinating the photo shoot, to developing and presenting the photographs. What do you consider the work of art: the Pixie bug sculpture, the photo shoot, the photograph, or all of the above?
D: The relationship between artist, object, and subject all converge in this series. So the work of art exists in every part of the process. The Pixie bugs were always meant to be a means of connection between myself and the people they were created for. The photographs allow there to be a reference point. They don’t act as a documentation of the process but rather an abstract of it, an interpretation of our interaction and relationship. The layering of all of these aspects creates a textured depth that extends the authenticity of the work beyond just the sculpture, or performance, or the photograph.
F: There’s this question of authenticity that courses throughout your work. German philosopher Theodor Adorno says that within a capitalist society everything is bound by capitalism. Therefore, even Adorno’s work is a product of capitalism and there’s no such thing as an authentic libratory critique. Ultimately, Adorno proposes that the only way to break from this conundrum is through critiquing it from within, revealing its self-contradictory nature. In some ways it seems that your current work exemplifies that critique from within.
D: Exactly. I actually identify a lot with Adorno in this work. Each picture in this series acts as a point in a story that isn’t necessarily linear. The images create a ‘constellation,’ to use Adorno’s term, of the feelings, moods, and ideals generated in the work. You have to look at all the points together to understand the whole picture. Like Adorno and Benjamin I am always evaluating the role of object and subject in art. Understanding the relationship between artist, muse (for lack of a better term), art object, and society is a driving force for me.
F: We’ve both spoken of ‘society’ in general terms throughout this conversation, but more specifically, who do you consider the primary audience for the Pixie series? Is your intended audience the individual who interacts with the Pixie bug, the public that views your photographs, or you as the artist? Also, what kind of experiences do you hope each party will take away from your work?
D: I think I’m undecided on part of that question. There was a great joy in creating the Pixies for these wonderful people. The playfulness and genuine pleasure of the days spent shooting the images and the conversations and connections made during the process are what define the value of this work for me. I think the experiences we—the subject and photographer—are having are also helpful and beneficial to a wider audience. The fairytale nature of the photographs makes them quite accessible. It can plant the seed that there are meaningful relationships to be made, and that art and play are an important part of that process. The danger obviously is that the photograph is also a consumable, something that can be bought and sold and perhaps devoured too quickly. This is always a challenge in art. You can’t force people to think critically but the clever artist can, at the very least, bring people to the table.
F: Everyone has a particular image of a Pixie despite having never actually seen one. Is the bug a friend or a foe to each of these women?
D: I think that it’s slightly different for each. With Ruth I felt it was all about discovery and play. The Pixie was friendly and Ruth could be seen as the foe in one shot in particular, but it’s still all quite fun and light. With Victoria the sense of discovery is definitely there but there’s more a sense of wonder and appreciation rather than a sense of play. We were seeing the Pixies as these messengers of death or perhaps carriers of the dead, and so there is far less playfulness than you see with Ruth or Katy. There is a real thoughtfulness in her approach to the Pixie.
F: When I think of Pixies I think of these harmless little creatures. But there’s definitely a grotesque and frightening underside to them. The fear of the unknown. How do you see this tension between the playful and the foreboding?
D: Mythologies address very big scary issues, Death, Time, Sex, all the things that push on the human psyche. The world is a violent and dangerous place, but when we understand our mortality we can appreciate the humor, the happy moments and the joyfulness of living. So for me ‘eeriness’ is very important because it creates the foil by which we see the beautiful.
F: And what does the Pixie mean to you?
D: I’ve always been drawn to myth and folklore. I’m intrigued by how humans use fantasy to view and interpret the world and themselves. For me the Pixie is that connection to myth, but it’s tangible, something they’re able to play and interact with. The insect-like appearance of the Pixies is important as well. People can react quite strongly to insects and spiders, usually with irrational fear and distrust, or with fascination and appreciation. So for me the Pixies act as a starting point, a bit of common ground with which I can begin to approach the participants and the viewer.
 Glenn Harper, _Interventionist and Provocations: Conversations on Art, Culture, and Resistance_ (Albany: NY State University of New York, 1998),4.
 Theodor Adorno, "On the Social Situation of Music," _Essays on Music_ (Berkley: University of California Press),396