Kim Dorland's 'Same Old Future' @Arsenal Contemporary
In today’s society, wooded areas are often seen as a place far removed from reality, where fantasies that have been exiled from civilization still exist. While this perception is more prominent in urban areas, the woods themselves have been viewed as distinct from civilization since humans started flattening the earth to build permanent communities. In spite of this disconnect, or maybe because of it, people go into the woods to camp, hike, explore, and ultimately reconnect with a more primitive human state.
Kim Dorland’s Same Old Future, currently showing at Arsenal Contemporary, comments on the strange relationship between humans and nature, and how interactions between the two show how disconnected they have become, while maintaining a reciprocal, if not necessarily constructive, relationship. The work, consisting of twelve oil paintings, follows a fictional plein air artist’s surreal journey into the woods, planning to paint the natural forest landscape. Upon entering, however, the artist is surrounded by an environment drastically altered by past explorers, where trees are covered in graffiti and the landscape has taken on an unnatural neon hue.
The only thing more unsettling than the condition of the woods on the fringe of the forest is how familiar the settings feel. As the fictional artist travels deeper through the trees, they find themselves in an area less frequented by humans, that looks more natural but feels more surreal than the pink, graffiti-coated trees from before. The artist gets lost, both physically and psychologically, in the wilderness as they move further into a world unaltered by people.
There is still an underlying connection between the artist and their environment, though, which can be seen in paintings like “Lost,” where the subject’s face is covered up by an owl swooping down into the scene, and “Self,” a self-portrait which is the only piece that is free from any artificial colors. Society’s influence cannot be escaped though, as the artist seems to be followed by ghostlike entities that look down at what appear to be cell phones as they float through the trees. Through this lens, Same Old Future can be viewed as a political work, criticizing the dissolving relationship between humans and nature. If we continue to neglect forests and other natural habitats, humanity is bound to stumble into a dangerous world with threats much more real than the creatures looming around these paintings.
Eventually, the artist succumbs to the elements in a piece titled “Let the End Begin,” which shows a ghastly subject ascending out of the forest. While the narrative of Same Old Future appears dark and pessimistic, when viewed pragmatically, one can see it as a wakeup call. “I didn’t want it to be obvious where or when this is happening. Is it a dream/nightmare, a memory, are these ghosts of people who used to be here, a dark premonition of the future or maybe just all in my head,” says Dorland (Juxtapoz Interview). Even if the story is just a bad dream, the paintings are still grounded in a real struggle between society and nature to peacefully coexist. Hopefully, artists like Dorland will continue shedding light on these vital issues and give us all a shot at waking up.
Same Old Future at Arsenal Contemporary NY will run through April 22, 2018.
Kim Dorland lives and works in Vancouver, Canada. Solo presentations of his work have been held at the McMicheal Canadian Art Collection (Canada), the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, and the Contemporary Calgary (Canada). His work is found in collections including the Montreal Museum of Fine Art (Canada); Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (Canada); Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (USA); The Beth Rudin DeWoody Collection (USA); The Oppenheimer Collection, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (USA).
Words by Nick Nicewonder