Dale Copeland MNZM is a goddess of assemblage, an ambi-lexical mathemagician, and an alchemist of potentiality. She’s a celebrated Taranaki artist, 6th Dan black belt in Taekwon-Do, infectiously giggly, and SUPER cute. She lives with more dead animals than live ones, and on the wall outside is written “Beware of Human.” She is my dream version of me.
When you’re a kid, it only takes a scrap of light to sustain you. A flash of hope. A glimmer of optimism. The possibility that you aren’t as alone as you feel.
I know it’s a cliché to say you do things for that one person you reach. But standing in Dale Copeland’s art studio last weekend, I realised she was that light for me. And that’s how I know what it means to be that one person. And that’s how I know the incalculable value of the light.
Cut to: Teenage me, seeing Dale Copeland’s work for the first time. In awe. Suddenly, right in front of me was my sadness and rage, lined up casually along the wall. Framed for all to see. There was the weight I didn’t have words for. Of being broken, of feeling more than I could bear. The weight of the joy and truth and pain of everything. And it’s peeking at me cheerfully with button eyes. How was my secret self in this work? Frozen in place and framed with these tiny dolls and shiny goodies? How did I feel suddenly real in this place of surreality?
And the more I learned about the artist, the more I knew: I was not the only one. Not the only one who loved Latin and physics, broken dolls, and skeletons. Not the only one who walked between worlds, light and dark, life and death. Not the only one mesmerised by things (my “junk” my “jewels”) and the ways of words. Not the only one with a meat suit somehow holding both bubbling enthusiasm and existential dread. She’s the alternate version of me that dug into her passion early, that was guided by her strengths not her weaknesses. While I put on the Normal Suit, she shaped a new normal around her. She’s the me I wish I was. (Or maybe the me that I’m becoming.)
Dale Copeland says, “Ask me anything!” and I proceed to forget the name of the poet she introduced me to (Dorothy Parker) and blather a million miles an hour at how much I love her and her work, while also narrating my own real-time realisation that she may be a version of me plucked out of the multiverse. Yep. Cool, cool, cool.
I probably should have just said thank you. Thank you Dale for being so perfectly yourself that you changed my world. You are a light.
(And also? How incredible is it to be able to visit an artist’s studio? To literally breathe the work/home space of genius? Yay for the Taranaki Arts Trail!)