Uninnocent Bystander

Exhibition at Lehmann + Silva, Porto2019 

For the solo exhibition Uninnocent Bystander, Harm van den Dorpel presents his newest iteration of works that explore the dynamics of algorithmic architectures.

In this extended work, initially labeled “Death Imitates Language”, a set of originary images are combined and recombined via a genetic algorithm to generate new sets of “descendant” images. The latest “generation” of images were birthed as a result of tinkering by van den Dorpel with the underlying combinatorial algorithm. To overcome the size restrictions imposed by creating works using a linear chromosome as a primary reference point (which is how genetics function in nature), van den Dorpel turned to a hierarchical form of organization which he encountered in the analysis of natural human language.

To create the newest series the artist borrowed from what is known as “Cartesian Genetic Programming”. CGP allows for programming code to mutate, in order to create a broad variation among many syntactically valid, and potentially meaningful, programmes. This technology from 1999 has mostly been superseded by neural networks, which power today’s most powerful artificial intelligence.

Van den Dorpel’s works concern themselves with the dynamics of progression and halting - one of the animating questions of early computational science. Whether or why a given process or programme ever completes underwrites inquiries that stretch beyond the realms of computing and penetrate every aspect of social and biological endeavour. Such processes are only partially understandable - indeed the famous Turing Machine provided a formalisation of the nature of undecidability with regard to the halting problem, demonstrating that it would never be possible to know the status of all potential computing programmes.

Despite the melancholic epistemological implications, such uncertainty provides considerable scope for growth and surprise. This lack of closure is something that van den Dorpel frequently celebrates in his work, arguing against the notion of the artwork as a finalised object subject to the sort of Groysean archiving that amounts to a kind of death sentence for a given piece.

Instead, van den Dorpel seeks to explore the tensions between creation and recognition. The artist may set certain processes in motion, but the motion has interests and consequences of its own. Thus, his works are environments as much as they are objects: evolving to produce specific states at specific moments, but they are never complete. The works are snapshots of a joint creative endeavour between van den Dorpel and the logics he engages, and which engage him.