Our Inner Child
Harm van den Dorpel
Opening Saturday 11 november, 17.00 - 19.30h
Upstream Gallery is proud to announce Harm van den Dorpel's third solo exhibition with the gallery: Our Inner Child.
Harm van den Dorpel’s practice focuses on systems that are ever-changing and developing in the context of technology. He engages with diverse materials and forms, including works on paper, sculpture, computer-generated graphics, and software, through which the works are continuously evolving, informed by feedback loops and the design of algorithmic systems.
Working within and beyond the origin of net art, the core aspect of the artist’s practice is software development that addresses specific approaches to artificial intelligence. With extensive skill and craftsmanship, he builds advanced systems that draw on intuition and subliminal processes of the mind in order to continually output unexpected and curious aesthetic forms that embody a feeling of subconscious computation, approaching the process as algorithmic archaeology.
This solo show comes at the end of a very intense period of my life. After a run of successful exhibitions, the hysterical rise (and fall) of NFTs, and the acquisition by the Stedelijk Museum of Markov’s Window for their collection. These felt like a kind of vindication of the work I had been doing, the culmination of decades of work, and a sense of arrival at an institutional level for generative art. This was something I’d sometimes lost hope in over the years: the possibility that at some point institutions would accept generative art as an equal to the major artistic movements of the last century.
While I was delighted by the recognition, I was also overwhelmed. I found myself in a kind of frenzy of obligations and conversations, and it all became a bit too much to handle. Recognition made me want to become a hermit.
During the period in which I felt this instability in my life, I sought out professional help and in doing so I became familiarised with “Inner Child” therapy. The form I came to experience is derived from psychotherapy and it made me consider aspects of my situation, and my own biography in more detail than I had ever previously done, and it also gave me a new perspective on my work.
For a long time, I had been engaging in highly theoretical and technologically sophisticated approaches to art. This cerebral approach certainly brought me to ideas that yielded interesting aesthetic results, but also I felt I was obscuring a part of myself. The works in this exhibition grew out of this period of searching into my own psyche, and attempting to make contact with the feelings that first inspired me to make images. Where once I might have felt insecure that certain artistic choices, certain colourful compositions, for example, immediately appealed to me, and I might have sought something more supposedly ‘intellectual’ to buttress a creation I viscerally enjoyed, here I have chosen to embrace that immediate sense of joy and bring the viewer into those moments of creative freedom and excitement.
Something that became apparent to me was the sense that we must accept the complexity of our minds and not attempt to judge ourselves according to rigid systems of rules. We should embrace our curiosity and accept and integrate our moments of fear and anxiety. In my own story, this has meant thinking back to the religious orthodoxy that characterised my upbringing. I spent many years trying to figure out the rules - the algorithm, one might say - to being a good person. How could I do this and avoid the terrors of the Hell that I was told about, and which I was constantly at risk of being sent to. Therapy here has helped me understand the limits of narrow legislative approaches to morality, both towards oneself and towards others.
These insights are part of the story of these works, but there is also an aesthetic element that is important to discuss in making the works legible. To create the images for this show, I used the same algorithm that was involved in producing Markov’s Window in 2004. In the ensuing years, computing power and my own abilities had become more sophisticated and in revisiting the technology, I began to think about the way that compression and decompression work in the artistic space. I thought about the way that painters such as Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg would look at, for example, a tree and take the enormous amount of complexity they would perceive and reduce it to a few shapes or lines to convey its essence. You could think of this as a kind of compression which perhaps reaches its highest level in Mondrian’s grid-like canvases. I thought about what could happen if you moved in the opposite direction, taking something very basic, and applying the capacities of generative art to that form. In that way it becomes a process of decompression, you can move from very simple geometrical shapes to extreme complexities, moving from shapes to the level of pixels.
My generative works are originally software, and originally were seen on screens with far lower resolutions than those of today, but any kind of screen display reduces visual complexity, therefore the only way these works could truly convey their full complexity was to produce them as material objects.
We often speak of our own inner child, but what would it mean to embrace a larger sense of a collective inner child, the vulnerability and joy that lies at the heart of everyone. I invite visitors to begin exploring that question, to begin looking deeper at things, and embracing the complexities around us, in their full resolution.
Harm van den Dorpel lives and works in Berlin. His work is in the collections of a.o. the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, MAK Vienna, ZKM Karlsruhe. Selected (group) exhibitions include the New Museum in New York, MoMa PS1 in New York, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Museum Kurhaus Kleve, ZKM Karlsruhe, and the Netherlands Media Art Institute in Amsterdam. He is an early explorer of Web3 and is the co-founder of blockchain-based art marketplace left.gallery. In 2015, he was the first artist to sell a work bought with cryptocurrency (non-fungible tokens) to a museum (see this article on ArtNews).