Chris Dorland's digital scans distort pop culture
April 10, 2015

The artist creates post-modern assemblages for the internet age, mapping the chaotic network of images that we have become accustomed to online

Chris Dorland is an artist whose drag and drop approach to his imagery is organised by a chaotic logic. Layer upon layer is pasted across his canvas, while distortions and acid-hued washes lend the appearance of a screen still in the midst of processing a real excess of visual material. His latest series is ‘Scanners’, currently on show in a solo exhibition titled 'Chinese Ferrari body juice, easy abs diet, ryan gosling silicone core, deskjet 3520; first 500 get a free hoodie' at Five Eleven gallery. The listed format pervades; a pomegranate, a bottle of Gatorade; Robert Downey Jr, gel polished fingernails, smiling lips, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Colorlicious #365. All are subjects of the series, assembled without hierarchy or order; advertising, stock images and magazine editorials meet and interact at surprising angles. “The images are networked and cross referential,” Dorland explains over the phone from New York. “There is a kind of chaos to them. I’ll take two steps back, two steps forward, one step back, and one sideways. I want the work to have that sense of elasticity.”

Stretching back across decades, ‘Scanners’ performs an abstract overview of the pop culture of the past. It is not a flexible feat of misty-eyed nostalgia that pervades Dorland’s work, however, but rather a snapshot of the overwhelming accessibility of this archive now available in a digital age. “The paintings are a compression of time,” he says. “It’s a weird thing that we live in a time where we have access to the entire history, or at least a portion that history. So in the current moment we can go deep, really deep, into the past, while functioning in a digital network. In a weird way, that network is outside of time and space.”


It is not a flexible feat of misty-eyed nostalgia that pervades Dorland’s work, however, but rather a snapshot of the overwhelming accessibility of this archive now available in a digital age


This compression comprises a new form of collage: less Richard Hamilton’s surreal take on society, more a direct evocation of modern life as we know it. Lived out in multiple browser windows, tabs and apps, where digitised museum archives will vie for attention alongside a new music video, Dorland’s non-hierarchical visual assembly approximates this flattening of perspective. “There is an aspect of postmodernity to this, where we have all this access to the past, and it gets recirculated, reused and reabsorbed into the future. To me that is just a real thing that I observe, and therefore it ends up getting moved in into the work.”

Dorland trained in painting, a background most apparent in the final physical nature of his work. Assembled onscreen, the pieces are then printed out large-scale to be hung. They are immersive; a bright spectacle of materiality that stands in opposition to the intangible ether of the online world. “The cables of the internet are hidden, and there's this whole infrastructure that our eyes don't see. There are these networks that have real ecological and financial impacts, and yet we think that it’s all immaterial,” he explains. “I think of the work as trying to grasp that, and speak to real world causes and repercussions that are maybe invisible to our eyes. All these different cross-references that I've made are an attempt on my part to map these structures that are not totally visible to the naked eye.”


The cables of the internet are hidden, and there's this whole infrastructure that our eyes don't see. There are these networks that have real ecological and financial impacts, and yet we think that it’s all immaterial


Red. Green. Blue. The base colours from behind the screen emerge fully in another series by Dorland, titled ‘Image Render’. Here, these shades are unexpected and odd, and yet retain a familiar, primary edge. “I use those colour blocks as a way of ripping images apart and getting to what puts them together. It’s like dismantling the image and revealing a sort of scaffolding, an underlying structure that we don't necessarily see when we're looking at something like a phone.” The tools of construction are emphasised, the seamless design of an Adobe Photoshop package or iPhone 6 suddenly exposed and disruptive, naked and jagged.

This focus on the medium and materials of technology recurs throughout Dorland’s work. It is immediately evident in the titling of his series: ‘Scanners’, ‘Entertainment Hardware’, ‘Image Render’. Hardware is taken as their guiding framework, navigating through scanners, servers and screens. “I also think of painting as being a form of hardware,” Dorland adds. “There is all of this history that gets compiled, and you can almost look at it as machinery. You have all these codes and systems that get applied to create something that’s actually tangible and occurs inside a museum. You can think of museums in a hardware sense: they have these hard structures containing information, and we have codes and systems for reading that.”

Dorland’s multi-layered images are mobile, free-wheeling through an array of source material. Despite initial appearances, though, his work is not directly referential. Removed from the pull of the past, it is instead plugged firmly into a world of infinite data, lighting-fast web transfers and immediate downloads. This energy animates his pieces, their restless motion and flashes of colour redolent of our own digital connections and online impulses. Peel back their layers, and a rainbow is revealed.

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