Elena Dorfman : Empire Falling
Mar 20 – May 10, 2014
Robischon Gallery is pleased to present its first solo exhibition with Los Angeles artist Elena Dorfman. In her featured photographic series entitled “Empire Falling,” Dorfman made over twenty- five trips over two years to rock quarries in the Midwest, traveling hundreds of miles traversing Kentucky, Ohio, and southern Indiana. The artist’s initial intent was to explore the secretive communities of rock jumpers who risk their lives leaping off hidden precipices into the water that pools in the quarried excavations. But as Dorfman began to be accepted by the jumpers, they invited her into their remote terrain. Then, Dorfman’s project underwent a radical transformation. Deeply intrigued and moved by the vast rock landscapes, Dorfman, for the first time in her distinguished career, created her first series of landscape-based photography seeking out the strangely beautiful, isolated and, in some cases, abandoned rocky terrains that once were the sites of great industry.
Conceptually and technically innovative, the “Empire Falling” series of photographs are built on the same principles as the precipices themselves. Each photograph begins as an accumulation of her pieced photographs which then becomes the prototype for the digital image. "Manipulating and reconstructing the landscape,” says Dorfman, “I reassemble and layer my images, emulating the natural process of stratum on stratum." An individual image may be constructed from as many as three hundred different photographs taken at multiple quarries, and using techniques that Dorfman developed especially for this project.
The exhibition reveals dramatic and intricate examples of Dorfman's laborious and meticulous process. For Empire Falling no. 21, a monumental mural depicting a graffiti -laden rock face at a single quarry, Dorfman shot from the water over a three-day period, capturing images digitally with a medium-format camera in different light. Dorfman printed over 300 images, and then, cutting and pasting, she hand-assembled and reconstructed the wall, rock by rock, tree by tree, every single stone representing a single image. The photographs were stitched together using state-of-the- art photo editing software that allows Dorfman to control visual effects with extensive layering with a painterly hand. The resultant work is not only a representation of a quarry’s devastation, but also serves as a haunting reflection on those touched by the experience of this unique landscape.
Though Dorfman acknowledges an aesthetic debt to Surrealism, her photographs also encompass a political dimension. "The images from Empire Falling present the quotidian rock landscape in an unexpected way," she explains. "The viewers' perception is challenged not only by the imagery itself, but also by their own personal subjective relationships to industry and the evolving earth."
The precipices present an apt subject for reflection on the changing environment; the quarries themselves are testament to the power of industry to transfigure landscape. This dramatic transformation of the landscape is perpetually ongoing. During the years Dorfman spent photographing the quarry-ravaged landscape, she witnessed the transformation of some of the most spectacular cuts and pits into scenic features for exclusive housing developments and golf courses. "When a quarry is re-appropriated yet another landscape is destroyed," she observes. Like the iconic paintings of an unspoiled region, Dorfman's constructed landscapes artfully reveal and preserve vistas that may soon be irrevocably lost.
A finalist for the BMW Prize, Paris Photo, Elena Dorfman’s photographs and video installations have been exhibited worldwide at venues including the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, the Triennale di Milano, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, the 21c Museum, Louisville, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and acclaimed in publications including Art News, and Aperture, among others. Her work is the subject of three previous monographs, The Pleasure Park (Modernism, 2009), Fandomania: Characters & Cosplay (Aperture, 2007), and Still Lovers (Channel Photographics, 2005).