The Willful Glitch: Chris Dorland and Technological Singularity
Chris Dorland: Civilian at Lyles & King
January 12 to February 11, 2018
106 Forsyth Street, between Grand and Broome streets
New York City, lylesandking.com
Technological singularity—the point at which the velocity of advancement reaches infinity—is, some say, close at hand. The manner in which innovation accelerates, with new discoveries speeding up further progress, is similar, perhaps not coincidentally, to compound interest. Moore’s Law predicted a doubling of circuit transistor density every two years, a trend that—despite pesky limitations like the size of individual atoms—seems accurate for the foreseeable future. The human body, in comparison, naturally advances on an evolutionary timescale, measured by incremental changes over thousands or millions of years. How can humanity compete with this insane pace? Are we doomed to become slaves to our creations as in so many sci-fi dystopias? Rather than seeing this scenario as a conflict between man and machine, these advancements could be thought of as augmenting our humanity, as in transhumanism, or as an indistinguishable addition to the increasingly meaningless category of “the human” as in some lines of posthumanist thought. Chris Dorland’s work, on view at Lyles & King, seems to be in line with this latter interpretation. His Alumacore prints and video works, created using layers of images altered by digital glitches, merge human and digital actions into a single substance is neither one nor the other.
Openness to chance occurrences is hardly new in art: Building on Dada and Surrealist experimentation, Francis Bacon threw handfuls of paint at his canvases to disrupt his existing imagery while John Cage performed on prepared pianos designed to produce random sounds. A glitch isn’t simple randomness, however: it is the intersection and confusion of multiple processes, like a machine misinterpreting data meant for some other use, or a circuit that allows its signal to be altered by outside noise. In whatever way a specific glitch may have been cultivated, it represents the “will” of digital processes altering, if not overpowering, that of the humans who created such systems in the first place. Dorland’s broken and hacked machines are his co-creators, and while the artist ultimately has the final say on how each piece turns out, these decisions are influenced by their non-human digital labor.
Can Dorland’s human touch be visibly distinguished from the digital logic of a machine? Untitled (Overclock) (2017) features a woman’s eyeless face, seemingly lifted from a makeup ad, distorted in a manner indicating that it was moved around while being scanned. This is the only recognizable image in the piece: Everything else is abstract. and while it seems to follow a certain logic (such as the vertical division between fields of red and blue), any larger human meaning is lost in an inscrutable pile of digital artifacts. Untitled (Drone Psychic) (2017) practically forces an abstract reading of its imagery, lacking any clues to the sources of its densely-layered and distorted material. There are several painterly passages in which skeins of acidic color ooze and flow together, but what these “brushstrokes” may actually be must remain a mystery, with any identifying information having been corrupted or deleted in the piece’s creation.
Played on a TV leaning against the wall, Dorland’s video Untitled (memory cortex) (2017) is a montage of glitched imagery in motion. Snippets of occasionally legible text—computer code and Japanese message board comments—float above footage from a first-person shooter video game as its color palette jumps between the red, green, and blue channels of computer graphics output. Any details about the game’s narrative are hidden in a swirling mass of images and text overlaying the already distorted footage.
Dorland’s work can be appreciated as abstraction, but pieces of images hint at deeper processes behind their generation. Untitled (Drift Upload) (2017) has bits of racecars splayed across its surface, disrupted by red blocks and horizontal black lines. A spiderweb of shattered glass, like the cracked screen of a smartphone, breaks the picture’s upper-right corner. Most of the prints feature such fractures, reminders of the broken border between the two worlds we regularly inhabit. The world depicted through Dorland’s work isn’t a cyberpunk dystopia as popularized in sci-fi, but it isn’t the utopia-for-profit envisioned by Silicon Valley “tech bros” either. It is more akin to an atopia, a place without borders or boundaries, like a broken screen trying, and failing, to keep separate the “real” and the “digital.”