Saturday, January 30, 2010

First Edition: Feature Artist of the Month! In the Editing Room with Dayna Danger

I now will be featuring an interview with a new artist every month! My goal is to share the work and process of talented artists in order to inspire and bring attention to up and coming art in Winnipeg! First up! Dayna Danger!

Walking down the stairs of the Fitzgerald building at the U of M, I entered the photographers’ domain; classrooms, cutting rooms, dark rooms, and through a series of doors, I find Dayna Danger, in the editing room. With platinum blonde hair, purple leg warmers, leopard print tights and a hoodie patterned in scantily clad women she sat in front of two Macs, one displaying her facebook profile and the second featuring her most recent work, a photograph from ‘Bad Girls’, her latest show at The Gallery of Student Art (GOSA) at the University of Manitoba. The image featured six naked women bleeding from their wrists and surrounding one very powerful woman lounging in a bath full of blood. After visits from other photographers inquiring about her latest work, we settled down in front of the computers and I turned on my tape recorder.

Gill Giggs So you’re in your thesis year, with photography as your medium of choice. Why photography? How does the medium help you express your idea to the viewer better than another?

Dayna Danger I guess photography was just an accident. I feel like I was just more of a sculptor in a sense – whether it be mixed media or clay – but I just kind of did photography and fell in love with it because I’m able to build my sets. That’s what I do, I dream up these ideas and I can make my own little realities or unrealities as we speak. That’s how I use the medium to my advantage.

GG Do you do a lot in digital and Photoshop?

DD Oh yeah, I guess traditional photography interests me but not as much as Photoshop and digital files. It’s like I’m sculpting right now but I’m actually painting because I have this pen tablet. It makes no sense… but all the sense [she laughs]. It’s like I’m using several different mediums and it just comes off as photography, but there are all these other levels to it. I wouldn’t be able to do this if I didn’t have the conceptual idea of everything being 3D and then having it in 2D.

GG Since we have this image in front of us, can you explain your thought process with this piece?

DD This photograph is based off the story of Elizabeth Bathory. In a nutshell, she was the woman that bathed in virgins’ blood because she thought she would have eternal youth. I really wanted a fancy bathroom. This bathroom is grey and pink so its very 80s. The house was built in the 80s so they’ve kept a lot of that aesthetic. So a Jacuzzi tub full of blood with naked ladies just seemed right to me.

GG In a jet tub…

DD Exactly! That would have been so absurd if I put the jets on. They would have red dye running through their jets for a long time. It’s my aunty and uncles’ place so I didn’t really want to do that. But yeah we had little condoms that are stuffed with sponges that we shoved in the jets, that way nothing would go through the pipes. It’s really hard to tell its blood– its darker. This girl’s wrist is going to be dripping into it. [She points to a blonde model sitting on the toilet with her wrist hanging over the bath]

GG So in your latest show at GOSA your work is chock full of religious imagery, incorporating both western and eastern religions and all of the images focusing on empowered women. What was your intent while making these images?

DD I guess it’s really easy to touch into religion because I was raised Roman Catholic. I’m not so jaded as I used to be and I’m using that to my advantage. I’m exploring how women were portrayed at a time when religion was being made and the stories that surround it because you know fact is always stranger than fiction… but fiction is pretty awesome too. It’s just easy enough for me to juggle those two around. When I was working on '8 Times the Dominance' [based on the Hindu Goddess, Durga – the Devil’s warrior form] I was talking to Ari [her boyfriend] while we were eating dinner and I just threw out this idea - I’m like, “What if I turned the goddess into a dominatrix with eight arms?” and he was like, “You’re going to offend a lot of people.” So I felt really stupid but it seems like the most stupid ideas that would offend lots of people turn out being the best. So it’s not really meant to offend anyone, it’s just my take on it and I’m not really saying anything about Hinduism and how it relates to all women being dominatrixes or anything. It just relates to modern society and it’s just an interesting character to base it off of. You know? Eight arms - how can you go wrong? That’s pretty fucking interesting to me you know? [We both burst out laughing].

'8 Times the Dominance' by Dayna Danger

GG So do you take a bunch of images and place them so its body over body?

DD Yeah so essentially Jasmine, my model, gave me one position and she is really good. She does fine art photography so she models and they’re not supposed to move so it was really fast, like half an hour. Once I got the position I liked she stayed and then she just moved her arms so it was really easy to connect them after because the backgrounds are the same, her body is the same - maybe a slight tilt but nothing that I can’t work with. So that was probably the easiest shoot I’ve ever done, it was like, “Let’s do this” and it just kind of happened. This isn’t a big secret. Any photographer who’s doing composite work knows that you can’t move, the tripod doesn’t move, people don’t move unless you tell them to move. Everything’s really set up and then that’s where the technique comes in to make it look like it’s natural. My one secret technique is I love trading faces on girls. I love adding on different body parts. This one [she points to the bloodbath] is one girl but she is made up of four different photographs. It’s whatever I feel like.

GG With that in mind, you tend to have some pretty interesting props in your work, for instance, the pig heads. How did you manage to get a hold of those? And how do you choose your models?

DD I guess it’s just, I know a lot of people and it’s an accumulation of friends. I have so many friends that are willing to do crazy, weird things for me. I don’t know how I’m able to get these people to do such weird things for me but I’m not knocking it at all. I’m totally taking full advantage of it. And the pigs heads, my boyfriend is a chef so I asked him where I’d be able to find some and he said to find a local butcher so I remembered Canters on Logan and they butcher their own stuff so I went in there and just asked them and they said yes - so that’s just one way of doing it. I got one for free apparently! It was like buy two get one free! It was so funny because I ordered two and as I was driving in the car to pick them up with my model, we were just talking about how it would be funny if we got three because then it would be like the three little pigs or the holy trinity. So we took the box home and opening the box itself was terrifying because you have these little pigs looking up at your face and there were three of them in there so we thought wow the gods are definitely shining down on us right now! But with the models, I’m really picky. I’m really picky about who I want to represent. I just don’t choose anybody, its for the particular character and what I see happening. I love that uncomfortable weird feeling [with someone who doesn’t normally model] and being able to work that model through that and you get something that’s so much more natural than someone that’s very conscious of the way they look. I like full control in my shoots so they can move around naturally and when I find something, then that’s what I want.

'Bettie the Butcher' by Dayna Danger

GG Also I notice you do not currently have titles next to your works, are they in progress or are you leaving this up to the viewer?

DD There aren’t actually titles yet, I was just thinking about that actually, which is a good question regardless. I was just going to name them Bad Girls 1 through however many I do but I do have titles. This one [she points to the bloodbath in front of us] is ‘Bathing in Youth’, so it kind of gives a little glimpse because I find that I need to feed a little bit to people just so its not completely abstract. I know what’s going on because I made this but maybe the majority doesn’t - I don’t expect anyone to. I was thinking about that though because that’s what Cindy Sherman did, it was all untitled and it was really ambiguous because of that. She could have said which movie star from which European film she was embodying or what movies and it would have been like, “Oh I get it” but I don’t think that’s what she wanted. I think she wanted people to really struggle to understand what she was doing. So that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Untitled by Cindy Sherman

GG As a thesis student you’re up day and night working on your art, and I’m sure you have a very labour intensive process. Are you able to share your artistic process with us?

DD Ok, super intensive – its really depending on how the shoot goes because this one [pointing at ‘Bathing in Youth’], was probably like 80+ hours so far, and the shoot went great. It was done in 8 hours with make up artists and six models in all. The post-processing – really, really difficult. So yeah, it really depends on the shoot - the one that I mentioned, the Durga one, that one was maybe 20 hours, which is nothing really. It’s putting everything together, making sure the shadows are right, colour balancing, all that fun stuff. But this [‘Bathing in Youth’], this is perspective, everything, so my process altogether is to shoot a bunch of little photographs and put them together to make them bigger. That’s what a lot of digital photographers do. I have my camera but there’s also a thing called the Gigapan which is a little robotic device that has a little point and shoot on it and it shoots in grids essentially. You tell it to shoot in one corner to the opposing corner and it goes in a grid and puts it altogether so they are jpegs but they are so detailed and such a high resolutions that it doesn’t really matter. I do like raw better than jpeg though. Raw you can really push things, whereas jpeg, you cant. So that’s where I’m torn. I love the Gigapan but I also love my Canon.

GG Who are your influences and what about them do you relate to?

DD Woo! This is my favourite part! I love talking about people I’m inspired by… Cindy Sherman, Richard Avedon, Anthony Goicolea, Jeff Wall, David LaChapelle - I think my first inspiration was David LaChapelle - he does ridiculous things. He was mentored by Andy Warhol and still relatively young but he just photographs crazy celebrities and he has ridiculous sets – absolutely ridiculous, so well polished – everything looks completely fake, but its definitely what he’s going for so to speak. And Sandy Skoglund, she does sets and they’re actually installations. She photographs them, so it’s really like what I do except mine aren’t permanent. Hers are permanent installations. Like in the radioactive cats – the green cats walking about the old folks home. Everything’s grey, even the clothes these old people are wearing are grey and then there are these bright green sculpted cats. Jeff Wall is another one that influences me too. He builds all his sets and looks back into history, which actually me and Rosh [Andrew Roshka, a fellow photographer in Fine Arts] were talking about cuz he was like you need to be looking at people that have done all this composition work for you because then it makes it more interesting. [This] is something I’ve really looked into now. Making your own compositions are great but like Rosh said, “Why would you not look at someone who had 10 000 hours of composition study - why wouldn’t you use that?” The Last Supper, right there – everything should look like The Last Supper!

'Cats' by Sandy Skoglund

'Jesus is my Homeboy' by David LaChapelle

GG So Sandy Skoglund – because you’re into sculpture as well, do you think that you’ll ever make your props?

DD I guess if I really had to. I’m really into this thing right now where I’m just using what I find, which I really like. Like in the Bettie Page homage, I put those yellow towels there because I really liked the yellow towels with the pigs. [Some days it’s] just being really meticulous and thought out whereas other days I just go with it. I’ve always been thinking about that but then I was reading one of Sandy’s books and she was saying how she’d be insulted if anyone did work after her – that’s my interpretation – if anyone tried to copy her, it would be a fail. So I was like just well, you can be inspired by somebody, but I’d probably be flattered if somebody was doing work that was similar to mine but then you’d hope its not better [she laughs] ‘cuz then its like what is the point of what I’m doing?

GG What are your plans after art school?

DD There are a few grad schools I want to apply to I’ve been in school since you could be in school and granted I probably should have graduated last year but I’ve taken an extra year of school. I just want to relax for a bit. Not stop making art though. I’ve heard that a lot of people do that and it’s so hard to get back into it. That would be devastating to me because I feel like I’m really growing. I finally feel like I’m doing art that matters, that looks good, that people can respond to and not just some theatrical poster bullshit. It’s hard when you’re doing more fantasy like things - not that there’s anything wrong with poster theatrical bullshit - I just don’t know if it’s right for my fine art photography [she says in a mocking voice]. So yeah I’m thinking of going to Montreal, we’ll see if I want to go there because Concordia’s there but Chicago would be the dream school – the institute there is ridiculous… And ridiculously expensive – I mean, as students, we’re starving artists and they charge us so much money for art school and its crazy to me because there’s no guarantee once you’re out of it. [If you’re studying to become] a lawyer, an architect – yeah there’s a pretty good guarantee – a doctor, you know you’re sitting pretty pretty. YOU’E SITING PRETTY PRETTY! [She yells] You’re there! So I mean it’s hard when you’re an artist because there’s really no security. I guess you’ve got to come to terms with that, which I’m trying to do - very stubbornly - but I’m trying.

GG So why the name Dayna Danger?

DD [She laughs] I guess I have to get my story straight if this is going to be recorded! It was actually in elementary school. My friends and I would make up games – one of these games was a superhero game. You’d have a name and I guess my name was ‘Dayna Danger’ and it just kind of carried over. There were other choices, like ‘Weedman’. And not because of pot but because of weeds. That was just terrible so I think Dayna Danger is the better name. So if I need another alias – Weedman. Look out for that one! That’s gunna crash and burn – you just can’t promote that…

GG When did you start being called Dayna Danger?

DD Probably in the first year of art school cuz it was Kara – Kara ‘Von Cannibal’ – and I was like, “That bitch! She thinks she can have the coolest art name!” So I brought mine out! I think Kara has since abandoned ‘The Cannibal’ but I’ve stuck true to ‘The Danger’…

Dayna’s latest work is being shown in GOSA until February 5, 2010. To see more from the elusive ‘Danger’ visit her website and follow her on flickr.


  1. Dayna's pretty but obviously not that cool since she never hangs out with me anymore.

    Kara "the Cannibal"

    ps - i love, i love.

  2. Haha so 'the cannibal' IS back! :)

  3. excellent editing work, i must say. is your editor for hire by chance?