Chris Dorland, Civilian @Lyles & King

JTF (just the facts): A total of 9 unframed color works, hung against white walls and exposed steel stud partitions in the main gallery space and the entry area. All of the works are UV ink on Alumacore, made in 2017. The single panel works range in size from 78×44 to 94×46 inches, while the double panel work is sized 88×78 inches. All of these works are unique.

The show also includes 4 video works, made in 2017. 3 of these works are single channel videos, on 9 second, 16, second, 32 second loops respectively; the other work is a dual screen diptych, with a runtime of 1 minute 35 seconds. All of the video works are available in editions of 3+1AP. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: The universal question of where photography is going is always rooted in a similar set of unknowable truths. In the present, we see hints and signs that may (or may not) point to what lies ahead. But given time, we expect and assume that some of the artistic ideas that seem to hold promise will move from the fringes to the mainstream. And so we use isolated data points to extrapolate toward larger potential trends, which is of course, a very dangerous and failure-prone activity, which only fools (and critics) try to do with any supposition of predicable success.

I can’t imagine that Chris Dorland ever uses the word photographer to describe what he does, and the actual use of a camera seems to enter his artistic practice only intermittently. But Dorland’s works represent a prescient 21st century confluence of aesthetic and cultural ideas that have been circling around photography for decades and have largely been unlocked by the digital transformation of the photographic workflow. And so they seem to offer a bridge, from the stand-alone photography we once knew to the more integrated and multivalent image medium that we now experience.

Part of what comes forth in Dorland’s work is a descendant of the image layering and relationship building found in the work of Robert Rauschenberg. But instead of using various modes of emulsion transfer or step-by-step silkscreening to physically replicate his found photographic imagery, Dorland is of course using digital printing techniques, organizing his filtering, collaging, and piling up of picture fragments in the digital realm before printing them onto the black glossy industrial substrate of Alumacore. His works gather images by the handfuls, allowing and encouraging their colors to merge, often creating a newfangled chance-driven painterliness that trades glitches and manipulations for the bygone drips and splashes that Rauschenberg used to purposefully disrupt the integrity of his imagery.

A second line of thinking in Dorland’s work updates the media awareness of the Pictures Generation artists. Like 1980s era Richard Prince and others, Dorland has turned his attention to images scavenged from luxury advertising, and his appropriated fragments from perfume and watch ads, vehicle engine and high end drone demos, and other high polish consumer items push acquisitive desire into dark territory. Where Dorland differs is that in his hands, the sleek facade of stuff has now lost some of its aspirational glamour, instead taking on shades on ominous doom. As shiny fancy wheels and smiling faces stutter and break down, its hard not to feel like the desperate charade of seductive consumerism is coming apart right before our eyes.

Most of Dorland’s aesthetics are driven by machine mediation. He’s fed his layers of images through all kinds of technologies, both new and old, letting software glitches, zig zag scanner smears, color misalignments, and other deliberate and not so deliberate manipulations undermine the visual integrity of the compositions. The results are pure 21st century media overload, where static, buzzing, and pixelization interrupt the smooth transmission of information, the digital output mangled and twisted to the point that original subjects get messy and deformed. While the underlying algorithmic structure is still somewhat in place in his works, the chaos of errors and mistakes has clearly started to intrude, a slab of broken glass or the gloppy residue of ink fighting for dominance with the descent into incomprehensible visual noise.

Dorland then brashly extends these ideas into the realm of video, adding movement and repetition to his arsenal. His short clip videos swirl with out of control imagery, the first person shooter footage from video games mixed in with code fragments, freaky ad demos, and jittering color fields, turning 3D renderings into crashed snippets endlessly replaying. In these works, the sinuous perfection of stylized objects is seemingly overrun by the frenzy of out-of control imagery, our inability to process all the visual stimulation leading to grim overload.

But what is perhaps most surprising about all of this is that Dorland’s works somehow come out the other side, finding a kind of unlikely beauty in this technology nightmare. While each work is a tweaked representation of our 21st century anxiety, there is still some elemental, and alluring, aesthetic harmony that is created by his layered visual voices.

Which, I think, brings us full circle back to Dorland and the future(s) of photography. While standing on the shoulders of artists who have come before him, Dorland has stepped out into the blank space defined by our always-on technological culture and tried to find his own footing. I think his ideas of technology-mediated breakdown and destruction have richness and heft, as they allow images that have been overperfected to cast off some of that rigid antiseptic crispness and become wild and loose and expressive once again. With that loss of control comes a dose of uncertainty and fear, and Dorland’s works tap into that undercurrent of seeping fright with a surprising splash of plausible truth.

Collector’s POV: The single panel works in this show are priced at $12000 or $14000, based on size, with the double panel work priced at $20000. Dorland’s works have little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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