A Conversation With - Chris Dorland
Addressing our evolving relationship to technology and the body, Chris Dorland’s recently opened “Synthetic Skin” exhibition with Super Dakota Gallery in Brussels is neither fully abstract nor functionally representational. Instead Dorland’s work allows us to apprehend the force of intrusive technologies as they merge into our bodies and psyches. We caught up with the NYC based artist to talk through the process of his evolving work as it embraces digital mediums.
Starting from scratch as this will be the first time some of our readers will have seen your work. How would you summarise your body of work over the last 3-4 years?
I think one of the biggest shifts in my work since my last solo exhibition at Super Dakota, which took place January 2016, has been for the works to move away from canvas and onto an aluminum substrate: more specifically a product called Alumacore. This transition has definitely pushed my work further away from traditional painting (as can be understood as a humanist entreprise working with materials that date back to the Renaissance such as cotton canvas, linen and oil paint) towards industrial, post-human materials such as metal, flatbed printers and screens. Another big shift has been has been the introduction of steel construction studs to create immersive installations that both block and barricade the exhibition space while also functioning as scaffolding for the Alumacore panels and video work.
It’s interesting to see how your work as developed from printing and layering pre digital graphics from billboards with post digital elements. Which in fact looked like they were on screen, to now actually utilising screens to carry the work. How was the transition period evolve and what were the technical benefits or disadvantages of working in this way?
I’ve always been interested in the relationship between painting and technology. My work has developed into something I think of in terms of “screen based painting” or “software based painting”. I’ve been increasingly thinking about Artificial Intelligence and machine vision. What interests me is to articulate the technological screen as a surface and vehicle for painting. This has inevitably meant moving away from the canvas and shift even more aggressively into employing technology in all of the stages of the production process–whether it be using drones to capture imagery or working with programmers and animators to help generate new images.
One of the main technical advantages of this shift is speed. When machines start taking over the production process (as in any field), it makes certain things possible that are not possible by hand and it speeds up the production timeline. So in that sense I can do so much more. It’s literally post-human. The flip side is one is that access to tools becomes more challenging. Everything is more complicated and production becomes significantly more expensive. I can no longer do as much alone and I end up needing the assistance of specialists. At the moment, something I’m very focused on is getting access to the various people who can help me think through technical aspects of projects I want to work on.
You once enlightened me to how old billboard posters were being used in refugee camps to create shelters which we both found hugely fascinating and somewhat dark. Are elements of how materialistic advertising or consumer driven messages are re-appropriated in the developing world still something you look at in your work?
Yes! I’m definitely still interested in the various ways images and adverts get used, appropriated and re-purposed. It’s actually interesting that you bring that up. One of the reasons I started working exclusively on Alumacore was based on a conversation I was having with a friend in the studio. We were talking about the work in relation to a imaginary post-apocalyptic style scenario, and he mentioned that in the event some future disaster, the canvas works could always be taken off the stretchers and reused as blankets to keep warm, or as fodder for feed a fire, but that the aluminum works were so inert and dead and that in a dying world they wouldn’t provide much comfort and as a result were slightly more terrifying as art objects. I knew then that I was heading in the right direction with the Alumacore works. I actually haven’t made a canvas work since that conversation.
Can you tell us more about Synthetic Skin, and how this body of work evolved? And how any departures from previous work have come about, be it material or subject wise?
Synthetic Skin is the title of the exhibition. I was thinking about the idea of painting in relation to skin. Making a distinction between the support (substrate) and the surface (skin). I like the idea of artificial, or digital, skin. Something that can be copied and reproduced infinitely. Imagine a future where we would have access to different outer skins. We could manipulate and change our physical exteriors at a moment’s notice with the push of a button. I’m fascinated by the idea of shapeshifting exteriors.
The images in my work ultimately consist of dematerialized files. They don’t physically exist or have a form until they are printed onto a substrate and locked into space. I often think of them as predatory organisms: parasites that are constantly seeking different host bodies to graft themselves onto in order to create a work.
I think the two biggest shifts in this exhibition were the creation of a multi-screen self-standing video sculpture Untitled (drone vision) and the introduction of a new body of work I’ve been referring to as Soft Skins. It’s the second Soft Skin that I make and I was quite pleased with how it turned out.
Finally what’s next for you?
I’m getting ready for my next presentation which will be at Frieze NY in May with Lyles & King. I’m also in the process of developing a book with One Star Press due out later this year. It’s based on a web project I did last summer. The piece can be seen at www.Sun-Scraper.com