How can an artist’s work be represented online?
Possibilities run the gamut from the “white cube” aesthetic donned by gallery websites to the more free-form, anarchic expressions of a Tumblr page, or a simple, home-brewed interface. Through such projects, we can generally see the work in some form (whether sculpture, video, or a Firefox plug-in) as well as what an artist persona looks like online (as opposed to say, that of a corporation). We can even approximate what an artist’s brand might be amid the digital swell of marketing and self-presentation (for instance, evasive user interfaces instead of clean, user-friendly ones). In more experimental modes—think collectively built archives or an artist’s blog that doubles as a public sketchbook—artist websites flout individual authorship and singular finished products that are closed to the public. And yet the question remains of whether it is possible to evince more than the artwork itself, to reveal the whole practice: the research, the influence, and what it’s like to make work over time.
The artist Harm van den Dorpel looks directly at this question through Dissociations, a deeply studied and spontaneous view of his process. The website—a concatenation of references, influences, and artworks, made, un-made, or imagined—gives his studio practice, along with its iterative and aggregative rhythms, a visual form. For instance, Page #336: Scroll presents an animated scroll, which van den Dorpel describes as “an old work… a computer science student assignment wrongly executed,” alongside installation shots of recent collages and quotations like “release early, release often, delegate….” The Dissociations structure is a successive presentation of finite objects in favor of tracking an interval space, where the interrelationships between ideas and forms become the focus rather than the works themselves. Its index is determined by the whims of its underlying system, which van den Dorpel says help him make fresh connections between much worked-over material. He writes that the system is being trained by his use of it to “gradually make better or more informed estimations on what could belong together, and what not.”
Dissociations can trace its roots down through the electronic ages to Aby M. Warburg’s definitively analog Mnemosyne Atlas (1924–29), a library of books, artworks, newspaper clippings, and found objects that was governed, in Warburg’s words, by an “iconology of intervals”—an obsessive dedication to the potential new knowledge that could be sparked by interconnections between ostensibly disparate things. The historian Elisabeth Doove has written in Exploring the Curatorial as Creative Act – Part I Hidden Similarities (Plymouth University Press, 2011) that “Warburg’s non-linear and non-chronological approach seems almost to be a precursor of the cybernetic approach.” Dissociations merges a subjective index, reminiscent of Warburg’s Atlas, with a networked mode to forge a visual space that reveals the larger life of an artwork, one that takes place before and outside of its exhibition, documentation, and reception. Dissociations allows us to see an artist at work: the formal refrains and forward steps he has taken, the different techniques he has learned, the sources of inspiration that fade in and out of mind. This is a fitting context for van den Dorpel who once described his finished works “as debris of an ongoing activity” and points to new possibilities for seeing art online.
Harm van den Dorpel (b. 1981 Zaandam, the Netherlands) lives in Berlin and currently has a solo show at the Abrons Art Center in New York City, curated by Karen Archey. He has also had recent solo shows at the Wilkinson Gallery, London, Grouphabit in Berlin, and the Mews Project Space, London. He has participated in group shows including “Analogital,” Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City, “Plants vs Zombies,” Boetzelaer|Nispen, Amsterdam, “Against Interpretation,” Onomatopee Projects, Eindhoven, “Deep Space (insides),” Joe Sheftel, New York City, “The Greater Cloud,” Dutch Institute for Media Art, Amsterdam, “Maps & Legends,” Museum of Contemporary Art, Rome, and “Free,” New Museum, New York. More on Harm van den Dorpel can be found online: harmvandendorpel.com.