“There is a cemetery-like hush in Elena Dorfman’s images, a sense of abandonment, of depopulation, where the air almost becomes visible...subjects become natural sites of elegy, nostalgia-laden testimonials to a lost heroic past...” – Kevin Moore (Curator and author)
Noted New York/California photographer Elena Dorfman’s “Transmutations,” follows the threads of the artist’s complicated familial connections, amidst the harsh yet luminous mountain terrain of her ancestors. Linking the socio-political with the biographical, Dorfman’s meticulous process-oriented large-scale photography, and the time-honored act of tapestry weaving inherently share a sense of history and materiality while creating a unique arena for contemplation. The dramatic nature of the photographs exhibited in tandem with the impressive large-scale tapestries, were prompted by the artist’s extensive travels throughout Albania and its bordering countries – regions where politics dominated or overshadowed the lives of its people. Dorfman states, “I have traversed the country many times in attempts to connect to a place and people whose blood I share, but with whom I was once forbidden to communicate.” She adds, “My interest in the region stems from the personal, but cannot be separated from the political as the larger series also references how the arts fared during the long period of communist rule.”
In keeping with Dorfman’s deeply felt search, each photographic work within “Transmutations” reveals a range of nuanced mark-making; both subtly and uniquely embedded within the digital process or placed atop specific surfaces. With the dominant spherical ornate element of the large-scale vertical Transmutation 2 (Gold Dome) as the most obvious overt exception - each of the applied brushed or deposited marks throughout the series require far more than a first glance to be seen. Once discovered, the handwork throughout Dorfman’s process prompts further questioning, as if its presence inhabits the terrain with a kind of whisper or evanescence – metaphorically re-enforcing the intimate and complex nature of time and memory as it pertains to the universal human connection to place. Dorfman explains, “I incorporate native elements and minerals such as gold, silver, copper, nickel, pigments and salt into my works. A vein of nickel coursing through a mountain ravine in my two-dimensional picture becomes a place for reflection, symbolic for intellectual rendering and generative thought. The explosion of Gold Dome references a family connection to Orthodox Christianity, once splintered, ultimately resurrected. The image titled Transmutation 3 (Copper River), with its prosaic U-shaped river, was made at the most feared and brutal political prison—a copper mine hidden in the center of the country. As I traversed the region with my camera I was seeking both a spiritual connection and physical evidence of its savage past.”
Further linking the past with the present, Dorfman combines her distinctive layered approach toward photography with the complicated process of tapestry weaving. Densely woven with metallic threads, the language of the Jacquard loom, invented in 1804, is now capable of digital translation. Dorfman offers, “As I continue to investigate the role of materiality on my practice, the centerpiece of Transmutations is a set of jacquard tapestries, three-dimensional objects that shift to the play of shadow and light. The decision to work in tapestry is a natural progression from earlier series, where hundreds of images were digitally stitched together to create the illusion of depth within a unified vista. These immensely complicated weaves utilize hundreds of patterns interpreted from the pixels of my photographs, which are then transmuted into the language of a Jacquard loom. The tapestries depict dramatic vistas shot in the Accursed Mountain region in the north of Albania—the most remote, rugged region of the country—where rich natural minerals cascade down the peaks, and where three religions—Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and Catholicism—still peacefully coexist.”
Through a highly personal exploration of place, Elena Dorfman illuminates the landscape while alluding to the human desire to find connection within Nature. Allowing for an expanded exploration between the natural and the artificial; real and fabricated, Dorfman’s distinct series of photographic and textile works within “Transmutations” convey a commitment to reflect beauty found and to acknowledge, as well, the presence of conflicting perspectives of an ever-changing world.
Elena Dorfman has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and attended the University of Vienna, Austria. A finalist for the BMW Prize, Paris Photo, Elena Dorfman’s photographs and video installations have been exhibited in both the US and worldwide at venues including the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, the Triennale di Milano, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 21c Museum, Louisville, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art while acclaimed in various publications including Art News, and Aperture, among others, and is included in numerous collections including the Denver Art Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Cincinnati Art Museum, Palm Springs Art Museum, Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University and Bass Art Museum. Her work is the subject of three previous monographs, Empire Falling (2013) Fandomania: Characters & Cosplay (Aperture, 2007), Still Lovers (Channel Photographics, 2005) and the catalog The Pleasure Park (Modernism, 2009). Dorfman’s work will be part of the Denver Art Museum’s “New Territory: Landscape Photography Today exhibition later this June 24 – September 16, 2018.