News #34 Exhibition: Asking for a Friend by Harm van den Dorpel at Narrative Projects
(Algues Artificielles, 2017)
Text by CLOT Magazine (Twitter @clotmagazine)
There’s still time to catch Asking for a friend a new solo exhibition by Harm van den Dorpel. The show is taking place at Narrative Projects (London) and runs until 20th January 2018. Harm is a Berlin-based Dutch conceptual artist regarded a key figure in the post-internet art movement. Alongside with other contemporaries, he is developing new ways of exploring technology, digital footprints, and social networks.
For this solo show, the artist brought a selection of recent works from multiple series of semi-algorithmically generated work. There are wall works, which function as preliminary material conclusions, but running software from which the work emerged is also on display.
The expression ‘asking for a friend’ we read is used when the person asking feels embarrassed and pretends to be asking for somebody else. The subject that poses the sensitive question introduces an imaginary constructed proxy onto which feelings of shame or guilt might be projected. The pieces are named with passwords that actually people use in real life, found on the internet. This also a recalls this feeling or shame as some can be particularly bizarre.
Harm’s software simulates biological processes such as learning, reproduction and growth. Each artwork has virtual chromosomes, parents and relatives. Using evolutionary and genetic algorithms he crossbreeds pieces, emphasising desired traits and eliminating unwanted aesthetics, akin to the process of breeding dogs or flowers. Multiple factors such as promiscuity, fertility and interconnectedness of specimen inform the artist’s decision as to whether or not a work is contingently ‘fit’ enough to be materialised. In this possibility space, the final works are haunted by the eliminations of all the potential pieces that were not meant to be.
Harm van den Dorpel does not create his work directly himself, rather he creates algorithms and software which can function autonomously, and in doing so he is raising questions about artistic agency and identity in our era of artificial intelligence and increased automation.