Conceptual Art Goes Viral in Harm van den Dorpel’s Berlin Exhibition

Visiting Harm van den Dorpel’s exhibition at Neumeister Bar-Am’s West Berlin gallery, one may sense that the artist has probably read William S. Burroughs. “Language is a virus from outer space” was one of the experimental writer’s maxims, and while there are few words in this exhibition, it recalls the line, at least in spirit.

The theme of viruses reproduces itself throughout the exhibition, “Ambiguity points to the mystery of all else revealing” (the title is a willfully obscure fragment from Heidegger), with psychedelic-colored parasites worming their way into Van den Dorpel’s layered, mixed-media wall pieces, covered in printed heat-shrink film in unique textures. Pupae-like forms hang from the ceiling in lurid colors (as in Chrysalis, 2015) and a brain is molded from digitally printed plastic, shiny and tangible (as in #speedbrain, 2015). Tech office whiteboards are decorated with magnets of grubs and fungi, and phrases written in marker pen such as “very beta still,” “todo,” and  “won’t do.” The boards’ columns reference the concepts of input and output, productivity, and “blue-sky thinking.”

While a large part of Van den Dorpel’s production exists in online information systems that he programs, his physical works extend his process to three dimensions, while carrying his computer software background and generative concerns with them. His art engages with how we are embedded in interlinking systems—language, artistic production, the internet—in which viruses, both literal and figurative, are reproduced. As Sadie Plant and  Nick Land put it in their wild text “Cyberpositive,” “viruses are not just infection, but connection.”

Regarding past work, Van den Dorpel commented in an interview with aqnb: “I wanted to make a system in which combining works is actually the work itself. There’s a curatorial element to my own practice, so sometimes I just make specimen that I feed into the system and see how it behaves in relation to other nodes, other text, or other images.” Understanding that everything is encompassed in the network, he tries to reflect this web of relations in the development of his practice. Through his artwork, Van den Dorpel propagates a virus—and now he’s watching to see how far it will spread.

Hannah Gregory

Harm van den Dorpel–‘Ambiguity points to the mystery of all revealing’” is on view at Neumeister Bar-Am, Berlin, Feb. 7th–Apr. 11th, 2015. 

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