Digital platforms efficiently navigate the ether of images, constantly tailoring information to suit any subjectivity. These rabbit holes in the cloud offer a continuous series of short narrative arcs. Rarely satisfied for long, users search endlessly for little shocks of novelty, a perpetual injection of stimulus that offers the pretense of emancipation. At first glance, Chris Dorland’s show, Density Build at Practise, seems to be a techy celebration of the 21st century’s propensity to scan. Dorland’s installation offers a thoughtful examination of the possibilities of painting’s elision with, and autonomy from, the conditions brought on by ubiquitous digital archiving.
Density Build consists of a single channel video and three ‘Acrylite paintings’. The paintings approximate the scale of the eponymously named video. The paintings are a digital collage of high-tech computer components used by gamers and hackers mixed with fashion ads. In this choice of images, Dorland seems to suggest that technological power and sex appeal are the two idealized aspirations of the digital consciousness. The three paintings share a chiaroscuro achromatic light, with intermittent shocks of saturated color. The images are roughly divided in half, either vertically or horizontally. The seam created by these divisions occasionally creates glaring shifts in the image. Other times, they induce subtle shifts in hue. Regardless, the distortion in the images makes them difficult to comprehend, as they dissolve together into a morphine drip of warbling shapes and beautifully undulating abstract smears.
Dorland’s process may best be described as administrative design labor. These images are digitally printed with opaque ink onto glossy, transparent black Acrylite panels. Once printed, the ink is cured with ultraviolet light. The resulting lean, flat surface is a conjugated interplay between printed images of glossy objects (made with opaque matte ink) upon highly reflective panels. This causes an echoing reverberation between the image and its substrate, opacity, and transparency, gloss and matte sheen. These complicated surface dynamics extend to activate the gallery space, literally reflecting the activity in the gallery as viewers engage the environment.
Dorland uses flat screen mounting brackets to hang the paintings. Re-contextualizing the banal hardware as a sculptural element provides another moment of elision between perceptual concepts of painting’s transformation over time. Archetypally, painting was once seen as a metaphoric window that not only presented an illusory world, this motif also carried the technical and cultural labor necessary to understand that environment. That perceptual model has long since been supplanted. Nevertheless, a subtextual implication of Density Build is that painting continues to frame perception as it adapts to shifting material possibilities and the new cultural paradigms of our ever-changing constant: technology.
The lone video in the exhibition also titled, ‘Density Build’ obliquely speaks to the histories, narratives, and sites that artists co-opt in a never-ending pursuit to discover new images. This sometimes leads them into problematic locales. Perhaps more of a sketch than a definitive statement, this piece examines the transformation of Manhattan’s Highline/Hudson Yards neighborhood from post-industrial decay to ‘symbolic capital’ through gentrification. While the video leaves the question of ethical responsibility in urban development unanswered, Dorland interestingly makes the location of the video primary. The vertical screen leans in the corner of the gallery, providing a nexus between the floor, walls, and the paintings hanging to its left and right. More importantly, it also contextualizes Dorland’s investigative propensity to watch the transformative effects of capital and technology on humanity’s external and internal landscapes.
One might presume technological developments have always interfered with or debased the rarified humanist labor of painting. But the opposite may just as easily be true. Dorland forsakes the dialectics of painting as an isolated, handmade process in strict opposition to media’s objectifying output for a more generative, mutual entanglement, rich with surface possibility. As images are continually posted, consumed and made obsolete in the blink of an eye, subjective experience is atomized into fractured bits that nonetheless re-form to produce new meanings in their de-contextualization. Density Build embodies this phenomenon, co-opting the seduction apparatus of new media in order to feel and act like the fractious technocracy constructing representation today. Dorland directly confronts the mechanisms that shape the current perceptual reality that is so appealing, yet so alienating. In so doing, he presents a model of production that resonates in its cold-eyed clarity.