> Snæfells: On the work of Philipp Dorl and Ryan L. Moule

Catherine Yass / Snæfells: On the work of Philipp Dorl and Ryan L. Moule

September 2016

The works of Philipp Dorl and Ryan L. Moule are connected fundamentally by the grain. Dorl’s grains of sand in concrete accumulate to suggest the imagery of landscapes; Moule’s photographic grain is the product of the real landscape both as image and as the material grain applied to the negative. From there the connections between their work continue as foldings and overlaps within each of their own practices. It’s from within these foldings that a political space emerges at the level of the grain, in the grammar of the imagery.

Dorl’s casts are always slipping and sliding over one another – the negative cast implies a positive shape, the concrete object implies an image, the units of the grid imply an infinite scale, so the work simultaneously operates in different dimensions and media. Flipping from one to the other and folding over each other, landscape and its representation intertwine, folding round each other but still remaining different. The cast is a negative for the concrete, the two are inherent in each other, and together they always have a latency, a potential to be something other than themselves, to evolve.

Much like the cast, the photographic negative is inherent in the positive print, and the positive is inherent in the negative. Moule’s photographs bring out this latency, the potential for change and transformation. Moule damages his photographic negatives with the material he photographs, in this case silt from the Port Talbot steelworks. The negative is under threat just as the steel works are. The original image, if there ever was one, is lost; the physical silt grain mixes with photographic grain. The prints are abstract, illegible, and in that abstraction new imaginary landscapes are suggested and constructed. Likewise in Dorl’s casts, the mix of coloured concrete grains, of different materials, summons up abstract landscapes and imaginary maps. 

Dorl hangs his concrete slabs on the wall like images, whereas Moule’s photographs stand on the floor as objects, leaning against the wall. The two practices fold over each other as they interact and raise similar issues in different ways, inflecting the readings of each.

Blindness is at the centre of both practices. The negative develops in the dark; the underside of the cast is hidden. Both artists work in the dark so to speak, both in an undefined space of transformation and potential. In this sliding, flipping and evolving, opposites do not fall into each other and collapse; positive and negative, landscape and its representation, material and image, are hard to tell apart.

Dorl’s Nidus pieces have an inside and an outside but the edge of the hole connecting and separating the spaces is neither one thing nor the other; it has no clear delineation. The word Nidus means a nest or dwelling place, but also a place of a tumor growth, where life and death fold over and into one another.

In Jules Verne’s perilous Journey to the Centre of the Earth, the Snæfells is a volcanic hole in the earth’s crust. It separates the inside and outside, but where that crust starts and ends is constantly shifting and resisting definition. The heat inside the world continually burns and melts the underside of the crust, the air outside allows the outer surface to grow, be eroded, change shape. These changes happen over millennia, we may not see them from our small moment. It is hard to see that we live on shifting ground; we cannot even really say where we are standing. We cannot position ourselves because what we could position ourselves by is not stable. Yet this instability can be felt. Unlike geological time Dorl throws his concrete into the cast or the clay on the wheel in seconds, having to respond spontaneously. Moule throws silt dust into the countdown of the photographic developing process. The situation can change; the results so carefully set up are unpredictable.

Like the earth’s crust, Dorl’s and Moule’s practices are in process and resist definition. They are distinct, they exist and yet they are in a constant state of flux, though they fold over themselves and over each other, they do not merge and lose their identity. They resist being positioned and in doing so cannot be defined or categorized. They resist the dialectic of being one thing or another and refuse to enter a language of fixed meanings, but they can still speak and they do not disappear. They operate on their own terms, however indefinable these have to be.

This has political implications. It suggests a space of thought in a different non-dialectical dimension, which without losing its relationship to it might open up a real place for social exchange and change.


– Essay text © Catherine Yass, 10th September 2016 – 


Snaefells: Philipp Dorl and Ryan L. Moule continues until 6th October, Fridays 12-6pm and by appointment at Filet project space at 1 Murray Grove, London N1 7QF