– Mark Dorf, on the merging of art, science, and technology
The Parallels Between Artistic Creation & Scientific Rigor
Dorf’s most recent series, Emergence, grew out of a residency at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in central Colorado, where he was given the rare opportunity of working alongside biologists and ecologists to experience the scientific process firsthand.
“I would spend many of my mornings and afternoons assisting and helping with the resident scientists field research; this spanned anywhere from counting flowers in a given plot that populations are measured from over time to collecting bee samples from hives set up in a certain area, or even tagging hummingbirds in order to track their migratory patterns,” recalls Dorf. “Through these experiences I was given a glimpse into how the landscape is broken down, dissected, and reassembled into other forms within their studies.”
The dominant theme of Emergence is drawn from such hands-on learning, after which Dorf realized that the trajectory some artists share with scientists is more similar than he would have imagined.
“At the most basic level, a scientist asks but one question then spends time doing research and collecting data on how to answer this question. This question, of course, can spawn new questions that need to be answered before the original question can be solved, so the process can become quite complex very fast. But at the end of the day, a scientist is merely describing our surroundings in an analytical and quantitative fashion,” he says. “I find that artists do nearly exactly the same thing, albeit in a less quantitative fashion (sometimes).”
When Dorf begins a new body of work, it typically comes from a specific interest that he finds himself researching continually over a span of time. Before he knows it, though, he gradually begins to create new work based on the subject he has been researching.
“It’s the happiest of accidents that seems to keep happening over and over again,” he explains. “[Scientists and artists] both describe our surroundings and our existence; it seems just to be in a different language.”
Through the years, Dorf’s process has changed, and his experience at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory marked a big turning point.
“In past bodies of work such as Axiom & Simulation and Environmental Occupations, I would actually draw every composition before I ever picked up a camera. I would draw the landscape I desired to find in full, with all of the digital and composited materials and forms included, then search for a landscape that fit the mold that I had created – a real labor of love, as if something was just a bit off in the landscape I would move on and not even take the photograph,” explains Dorf. “The end result, though, is far more rewarding, as there is an incredible sense of achievement when you see the final work fully realized just as you originally intended.”
“In my most recent series, Emergence, my process was a bit different,” he continues. “I would spend my days hiking, exploring, and finding landscapes in the Rockies without the final composition in mind other than that I knew the image would eventually be cropped square. I took a more scientific approach since I was working with scientists while I was out there; I collected my ‘data’, the photographic image, then began asking questions afterwards with the added elements that are included in the final composition, just as a scientist might do with the collected data set.”
MARK DORF – EMERGENCE SERIES
Endless Landscapes of Form & Inspiration
Environment always been important to Dorf, who moved fairly recently from Hudson, New York, to Brooklyn. Despite the fact that Hudson provided a more naturally beautiful landscape and was the basis for most of his entire series, Axiom & Simulation, Brooklyn offers an artist community and a degree of idea exchange that the more remote city never did. Nonetheless, though Dorf says that every city he has lived in has supplied something uniquely valuable, he now finds traveling more important than ever for his artistic practice. A 2012 visit to Iceland, which gave Dorf the opportunity to work on Axiom & Simulation through the Nes Artist Residency, introduced him to what has been the most inspiring landscape he has visited thus far: the Westfjords of Iceland.
Dorf still has many landscapes to visit; he has never been to the desert and the Middle East is near the top of his list — but a visit to Iceland in 2012, which gave Dorf the opportunity to work on his Axiom & Simulation project through the Nes Artist Residency, introduced him to what has been the most
“It’s just so vast and empty out there with endless lava fields covered in the softest moss you’ve ever touched in your life,” he explains.
Iceland peaked his interest in visiting northern Norway, Svalbard, and Greenland, and Dorf is excited about someday seeing the desert and the Middle East — yet despite the obvious benefits of traveling for one’s craft, there can sometimes be unforeseen challenges, as well.
“It’s always scary when you travel to make a project, and then once you’re there, all of a sudden you hit a creative bump in the road that you didn’t see coming. Then the landscape becomes this sort of torturous element — everything around you could be perfect for what you are trying to make, but because your creative compass had been knocked for one reason or another, it’s rendered worthless,” Dorf recalls, about a segment of his trip to Iceland. “When this happens, it’s hard even to enjoy the landscape for its sheer beauty and environment.”
MARK DORF – AXIOM & SIMULATION
Technological Artistic Futures
Though it may lack a consistent geographical space in the physical world, Dorf sees his works as a part of a connected “strange fictitious environment”, even as it spans many mediums. As a part of his //_PATH series, which merges 3D renderings with photography and primitive 3D scanning technology, Dorf has also utilized his schooling in Sculpture and Photography to create luminous sculptural works under the subseries //_RUBY. //_PATH has a notably more digitized look than other series like Emergence and Axiom & Simulation, and appropriately, it comments on the pervasive dependence of the internet and how “it is no longer about logging on or off, but rather living within and creating harmony with the realms and constructs of the internet for our newest generation of inhabitants.”
Dorf also takes this merging of technology one step further with his Parallels series, which he created in part with glitch artist Adam Ferriss.
“A lot of my work has to do with science and technology, but I would by no means consider myself a developer,” says Dorf. “I can navigate my ways through the Processing coding language a little, but that’s about as far as I get.”
With a clear vision for interactive pieces in the series but lacking some of the technical abilities, Dorf decided to contact Ferriss, knowing that they had similar artistic trajectories. Both studied photography in college, only to take what he calls “a pretty far turn into the world of technology and digital media.”
“Knowing his earlier works I could see that our minds would align well, and sure enough they did,” says Dorf.
MARK DORF – //_PATH SERIES
//_PATH featured the use of primitive 3D scanning techniques, and for PARALLELS, Dorf wanted to take that technology one step further, but incorporating the possibilities of motion and movement found within the 3D rendering space.
“I was then commissioned to make new works for Neverlandspace, an online venue for web-based digital art, which is really what started the rock rolling downhill,” he explains. “All of the figures that are seen are raw 3D scans of my torso and head. I then composited them together with animated elements that I created in a 3D rendering program.”
With Ferriss’s help, the PARALLELS series (view it HERE) features a number of .gif-like moving images, alongside generative forms coded in a language called three.js, that turn pixel clusters into exploding constellations at the click of a mouse. Together, they are an exciting look into the cross-pollination of art, technology, and science that is ever-expanding in more complicated ways, and are merely a hint into the scope of Dorf’s future work. Though it is too early for him to reveal the projects he is currently working on, Dorf does guarantee one thing.
“You can expect a stronger tie with technology,” he promises. “I can say that much.”
MARK DORF – //_PATH SERIES