Humanity is drawn to categorize and compartmentalize our material existence in oppositions: there is the landscape and there is the city; there is the digital and there is the physical; there is chaos and there is harmony. In our increasingly technological existence fueled and influenced by visual and digital media, the contrast between those areas that exist in our urban centers, the surrounding landscape, and our technological environments is only increased and amplified. In actuality none of these elements can exist in a singular fashion. Each mode of thinking influences, is codependent, and is coproduced by the other: our world is composed of a complex ecosystem of constant material transformation. Transposition explores these perceived categories not as distinctly separate, but rather as a spectrum, revealing the influences between the material languages of landscape, urbanity, and technology.Press Release - Postmasters 2017
Transposition translates complex systems of material exchange into discrete photographs and photographic installations. Our surroundings—the natural world, the urban environment, virtual interfaces—appear to be segmented in the works, metaphorically materializing the human impulse to compartmentalize vast, codependent networks. Photographs of foliage, orchids, moss, and tree bark are presented on pseudo-architectural plywood forms alongside a host of synthetic objects: fake turf, silk plants, resin-coated bark, bottled water, plastic rocks, cement bricks, and fluorescent lights. Despite the precise arrangement of compositional elements, a confusion arises about the material taxonomy of each object. In using a material like plywood, Dorf also speaks to a process he describes as the “othering of Nature”: This mass-produced version of wood does not reference real wood at all, erasing the farming, logging, and laminating that enabled its creation.
Gradients, blending effects, extreme isolated color shifts, and blunt, basic Photoshop tools, like clone stamp, feature in the imagery, creating rough layers and textures that augment the material confusion under scrutiny. Plywood, photographs of plywood (which bear the marks of the aforementioned blending techniques), glass, and bark are arranged in layers, much like an unflattened Photoshop document. The materiality of digital imagery becomes a part of the subject matter, underscoring how images are manipulated to appear more natural than the subject captured.
This body of work is a continuation of a series by the same name, originally commissioned and presented by the Fotograf Festival in Prague, CZ. There, Dorf photographed flora in the greenhouses of the Albertov Botanical Garden; his photographs and photographic installations were then exhibited amongst the foliage of the main greenhouse. For the new body of work presented at Postmasters, Dorf visited the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. In the Czech Republic and New York, the subject matter in the photographs derives from a highly synthetic, packaged version of nature, much like the categorical definition of nature itself. Nature does not exist. It is an arbitrary classification, deployed to describe a space separate from humanity. Humans are inextricable to the environment; we extract resources from the earth to build cities and virtual villages, the effects of which reach throughout the biosphere.
Press release by Kerry Doran
The abundance of mediated nature and its visual representations became a socially predetermined aesthetic that affects our expectations and demands on nature’s character. Once cruel and wild, nature is now a serene, peaceful and beautiful paradise we once lost and desire to return to.
Our idea of nature is a catalogue-image like perfect picture that overshadows the natural environment itself, the same environment of which culture is a part of. Nature has become a purified image behind which real nature is hidden. Technology serves in this sense as a magical tool that allows us to play with reality and materialize the idea of serene nature not only through modified images but also in other forms, such as a tropical glasshouse.
Glass construction separating the plants from a busy city life serves as a display case for a museum piece that you can look at but cannot touch. This scientific collection of plants that is the environment of the glasshouse is on the threshold of becoming a pure aesthetic visual product freed of uncomfortable physical but also mental stresses, one where the aesthetic experience is mediated and clearly defined for us; it is already predigested and ready to be consumed. Botanical glasshouses, roofed by science, become a monument to the impossibility of natural encounters and an epitaph to humanity’s relationship to nature. A relationship that can perhaps be restored once we realize that borders are illusionary and what is intertwined cannot be separated.
New York based artist Mark Dorf is answering these problems of the relationship between man and landscape in our digital era. He is using the manipulative potential of photography and installation to criticize the artificially generated dichotomy between nature and culture, which is rising in our increasingly technological world. The acquired distance, followed by the post-industrial physical separation between man and land, allows us to perceive nature being more sublime than ever.
For the botanic glasshouse, Mark Dorf created two objects using the principle of layering materials, referring to the pervading overlay of matters and meanings of the landscape that surrounds us: the natural, urban and virtual one. Transposition is an exhibition that defines these environments as parts of a single culturally determined entity – which is a spectrum rather than a sub-categorization of interlinked and influencing landscapes.
The installation is based on but also follows the nature of a glasshouse in which it is placed. Transposition can be seen as a display of relationships between elements forming the contemporary character of nature. Both objects include natural materials, referring to the actual conditions of life: light, wood, water, plant; as well as their transformation into artificial reality (lamp, plywood, concrete, plastic, houseplant) topped by a mass of glass as a metaphor of vision and perception. Our view is defined, similarly as in the displayed photographs, by collage of nature imposed by its cultural reading, use and exploitation. Today, nature is, more than anything, a scientific data set or imagery transformed by contemporary digital imaging techniques made for mass consumption. Glass of the technology that forever surrounds us transforms our view of nature and additionally the world around us. Even something that seems to be transparent changes our perspective and perception; it is the metaphor of an image.
Aestheticized images, that we can find in the manipulated photographs of Mark Dorf, are a mirror of our own desires for nature that is “naturally” beautiful. This paradox is a cultural cliché and more than anything reflects our role in directed evolution.
Press release by Adéla Kremplová and Katarína Mašterová (English Translation)