By Maha Alsharif


Mark Dorf, "Untitled 13", 2012, Archival Pigment Print. © Mark Dorf.

Inspired by the 2012 digital photography series “//_Path” by American artist Mark Dorf, this text examines the influences of the digitisation of reality on human consciousness. Framed within the narrative of art history, it connects advancements in media sharing and photography to Carl Jung’s Persona, and finds it is possible we are developing a new dimension to our perception of the self.


The images in “//_Path” were produced using a variety of digital techniques, including photography, collage, 3d rendering, and primitive 3d scanning technology. The outcome shows colourful geometric and synthetic renderings, in harmony, yet in striking contrast to the surrounding natural landscapes. Dorf explores the degree to which wireless technology is becoming ingrained in modern living and the degree to which it affects human perception of the world socially, emotionally, and physically. In doing so, the artist highlights that we have passed the log on and off phase, and rather live in and rely on the realms and constructs of the internet.

Mark Dorf, "Untitled 26", 2012, Archival Pigment Print. © Mark Dorf.

The deliberate juxtaposition of digital forms against natural landscapes speaks to the transformation of language of intake and expression; where the natural landscape can be seen as the most ancient of symbolic languages that birthed all of modern languages, while the pasted layers of digital forms point to ‘today’s language’, where natural and physical elements are captured and digitised. It refers to the virtual imitation of reality created through the internet that is transforming the human experience into a quantifiable, navigable, and cataloged one. Albeit beneficial to many aspects like communication, travel, and transfer of information, digital applications are problematic when it comes to the human condition. Digitisation indicates a new level of consciousness, in which we are bound to exist on the internet too. For instance our behaviour in the ways we are compelled to and choose to digitise our humanness online. It is a two-fold dynamic, in that individuals are able to experience themselves as the other and able to present an edited version of the self to the world.


Several factors contribute to our current state, however it is interesting to trace it within the context of art history. Art, in all its forms, is a creative practice that continues to adapt to and bring new ideas to humanity, in which the media, methods, and subject matter progress with time. Furthermore, art is meant to be - in the broadest sense - appreciated. As such, according to the common narrative of art history across cultures, art recorded primitive practices, ancient beliefs, views and taste of the ruling class, reflections of everyday life and nature at home and abroad, personal points of view and visions, new styles, and so on. Considered a skilful and a sensual craft, art was historically reserved to a certain class, and it was not until photography that the public had access to an instant medium that would not only capture and immortalise personal moments, but also serve as tool for the majority to view their self as other in a physical object. Additionally, photography allowed people to compile a selective log of moments, as seen in family albums for example, that provides a glimpse of reality.

Mark Dorf, "Untitled 9", 2012, Archival Pigment Print. © Mark Dorf.

Printmaking allowed the dissemination of information to flourish. It grew during the industrial age and information became easily accessible during the digital age. Coupled with photography and filmmaking, print created opportunities for collectives as well as individuals to address large groups of the population - a position previously available only to a ruler or one of high status. The process gave birth to celebrity culture and its associated media, in which celebrities were admired and their news followed by strangers.


Fast forward to today, where several platforms to instantly share and receive information exist, any individual is free to create digital content and gain following based on their branded self, interests and/or achievements. This effort correlates to Carl Jung’s Persona, a term the Swiss psychiatrist coined as one of the Jungian Archetypes, to describe the personality one projects to others as differentiated from the authentic self to compromise between innate psychological constitution and society. Compared to Jung’s Persona, the digitised self is encrypted, immortalised, and available to the world at the swipe of a screen, however it still comes from a human place. Therefore it makes sense it is far more altered to reality, because we are literally building a public image. The digitised self becomes a measured extension to our consciousness, that like the persona, we try to project the very best illusion of.

While the digital realm is here to stay, it is crucial to be aware of its position in regard to our consciousness. As Dorf suggests, the language of nature remains the most authentic and superior, and its layers of mystery including our understanding of the self and perception of reality, are still beyond our grasp. Therefore we should not limit ourselves to living vicariously through our digitised self, or even created personas, but rather use them as guide points to discover what else lies within.

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