In conversation with Harm van den Dorpel, 02/13
Untiitled (added to dissociations.com 2 weeks ago)
Let’s begin with talking about Dissociations. Maybe the best question to ask, however, is where do we begin with this?
It doesn’t really have a starting point. Maybe it’s a caricature of a Deleuzian rhizome. It’s meant to integrate with other sources that link to it, to weave it into the texture of the internet. Similarly, I suppose, to other sites. I mean, few people surf straight to YouTube.com to look at featured content, you always just end up there coming from somewhere else.
The viewer is encouraged upon a journey that is seemingly as algorithmic as it is aleatory. Is there an endpoint we can get to in this?
Actually aleatory implies a degree of randomness, which it has not. You might call it pseudo generative, in a similar manner other sites come up with ‘related’ content.
Perhaps my use of this word relates to a sort of awe - a weak sublime - that we often experience upon encountering complex systems; it’s tempting to assign them to chance. Perhaps what I’m asking, more exactly, is whether you can explain the process behind this website, and its expanded artwork.
I was looking for other ways to reflect an artistic practice online, to replicate a thought process, instead of reducing to the common fixed list of ‘selected works’ of portfolio sites. For me the art happens between the pieces, less in them, so it was evident I wanted to develop some new system that would structure this. There are no underlying tags or taxonomies, but it’s ‘learning’ by ‘training’. I get to click choices like ‘this thing relates to this, and that one to that’, without ‘tags’ or other proxies that would force me to interpret with words what things are ‘about’. From all these thousands of manual associations it generates these pages, of which some make more sense than others. Sometimes it comes up with surprising combinations; those are small eureka moments for me. I actually don’t believe there is such a thing as real artificial intelligence. At least I’ve never encountered it. So I have an ambivalent attitude: on the one hand I go through hardship in developing these systems with all that technology, but on the other hand I believe that human thought, consciousness and intuition are so much more complicated, it won’t be possible to describe it anyway, let alone simulate. I guess this dichotomy between the representation of existing knowledge and self emergent substance through intuitive association is what the project is about in the end.
All pages in it are numbered, up to, at the moment, #1030. Is this an attempt to foreground the website’s design, and suggest a certain rational order to it? I’ve tried navigating the website through its url as opposed to user interface, typing in page numbers (eg #001, #453) but these come up blank. Are they, then, pages waiting to be colonised? Do these content-free pages have a structural importance within the site?
The numbers are sequential in time. Sometimes I delete items, leaving these empty slots so to speak. In that sense I’m sabotaging my own archive.
Another thing important to mention is that the majority of 'works' on the site are speculative, or fake, or not there yet. And sometimes I make things just for the sake of filling in a relational gap in the network of elements, like dummy data, or specimens.
At one point I found myself in a corner dominated by your Assemblages (although I can’t seem to get back to them now). I’m very aware of these as gallery pieces; what is the relationship between the sculptures and the website? Are they separate projects, or parts of a whole?
Ultimately a whole, but I’d be hesitant to make a simple distinction between those two terms.
My primary encounter with these sculptures as objects came at your show About at Wilkinson Gallery in March. The digital prints that accompanied this have an aesthetic more akin to Modernist collage than more recent, HD-heavy trends. In what way is history a material presence in your work?
It is important to realize they are not prints, but layered constructions using various materials..
What are ‘HD-heavy trends’?
What I mean is the difference between your work and a project like Hyper Geography, or the brand-obvious aesthetic of DIS Magazine..
I think the reflection on past ‘styles’ is important. I like how Josh Smith once said, in an interview I believe it was, that he makes paintings that ‘look like’ abstract expressionism. Which means they ‘are’ not AE. There’s a thin but fundamental line there. I’m curious to find out what art looks like, how it looks different from things that are not art, or things people post on, for example, deviant arts. I think what is at stake, and is interesting for me, is how these different isolated traditions spill over. For example, http://dissociations.com/887.
Is Dissociations an archive?
I think it plays upon existing logic, and attempts to make it visible. To make a system that organises information based on content, not on dates. There’s no distinction between old and new. Instead there’s two kinds of times: time edited and time made. What it is therefore is a tracing over time. Also, it’s important that I don’t feed in literal connections. It’s a system of saying no, which is an old art school technique: you put things on the table and work out what’s part of the series, and what doesn’t belong. There then becomes lots of secret bits within it, hidden pages and my own personal reference points. Systems reveal things you might not notice.
Might you comment therefore on seriality? Are you interested in series?
Not in a ‘60s and ‘70s way. Not analytical.
A process then of aestheticising information?
Actually that sounds quite horrible(!). In a visual complexity way, or like generative graphics. I use the kindle a lot. Also services likereadmill.com. From this I’m interested in the moment when reading becomes writing. I think the aesthetics of language are in poetry. The foundation of language is the assembling of other people’s sayings, and then the rewriting of it - the essence of language. And as we learn and get better at this, the chunks are a bit bigger, and the jumps get a bit bigger. The kindle allows me to create a bank of all my favourite quotes, from whatever I’m reading, and from this new texts are constructed. The way my texts are written is exactly the same as the images are made: it’s this making connections and linking things. In fact, a large part of my aesthetics is anthropological research of other artists, especially what they were doing in the past, and then how that relates back to now. A lot of my collages (well, some of them, not a lot. I’m not even sure how to define kitsch) have a lot of kitsch. Divine or not, these elements all occupy the same space of artistic activity.
I like this stretching of the definition and potential of poetry; as a way almost of conceptualising the world, or at least our place within it. It’s like our questions and answers right now. These answers are literally made up of things you’ve said to me, conjoined, made sense of, but also fractured temporally and with things removed.
It relates back to the etherealself / etherealothers project, which I’ve edited together into this longer video - http://dissociations.com/854. It would be boring and too long if I was to show all the unrealized footage from inside people’s homes, but when you remove certain bits - all the bits of movement, for example - then it becomes beautiful, and you notice different details, such as the shadow moving across the wall. Or Game of Thrones. This is the most downloaded, and therefore most shared, TV series ever, but of course I watched it in fragments, creating space to engage with it in other ways.
Perhaps we can talk here about your Game of Thrones sculpture here. How does it relate to your existing practice?
It’s important that it’s a participatory thing, just like the webcam website Ethereal Self. People are lured into something, and they give away something as well - the documentation of so many people in Berlin sitting in the throne, presenting themselves to the camera. I have a piece of their soul, in a sense(!). Game of Thrones is the most downloaded thing ever, so it’s a monument to filesharing. http://torrentfreak.com/top-10-most-pirated-tv-shows-of-2011-111216/
I’m also thinking here of incest. Building a throne-sculpture in a project space - which is too big to fit through the door to get it out again - inviting friends over facebook to come see it, getting all the people to sit in it, they pose, then their photos are fed back onto facebook, where they look at each other, liking each other’s portrait. There’s a feedback loop of attention there, which is to me sort of incestuous, which is precisely one of the major themes in Game of Thrones. What it is though is a return to the idea of recursion, and following this process in different spheres. http://dissociations.com/876.
There are concerns here though, too, and this relates back to the Ethereal Others project as as well. Privacy is being used as an asset, as currency, and nobody’s really caring about it.
And these experiences, these encounters, then feed back in turn into the Dissociations project. Are the negative links still at work here?
Yes, but not so much in the content itself; instead in how the content is filtered. These links are really a way to frame the Dissociations project. And often no one really understands it, they think it’s a tumblr or something. Which is ok. But maybe I need to design it better, as I don’t really want to explain anything. If it works out well with this interview, then maybe this can be a way to do that. Different perspectives give different access points to the work.
Is it possible then to remove yourself from the system, to get critical distance?
I definitely don’t have the critical distance! To answer, I’d say that all texts are about the system, but become in turn a part of it. Like Derrida’s writing, which is always within itself, and very much creating itself.
It’s nice if an external entity like you explains something about it. I can’t step outside of it. Say there’s a circle, and a dot outside of it. The dot is outside of the situation. Yet immediately the circle is enlarged, and the circle is within it.
I’ve stumbled upon this quote by Derrida: “Dissociation is the condition of community, the condition of any unity as such”. Does this make a good place to end?
See this quote: http://dissociations.com/974.
It also relates to the psychological meaning of the word too. Dissociation is a psychological experience in which people feel disconnected from their sensory experience, sense of self, or personal history. It can become quite a visceral phenomenon, but also the conditions, as well, for new encounters and connections.
Installation view, Harm van den Dorpel: About, Wilkinson Gallery, 2012.