Art review: Melanie Willhide at Kaycee Olsen Gallery


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An ode to the happy accident, Melanie Willhide’s exhibition at Kaycee Olsen Gallery is dedicated to the man who stole the artist’s computer and erased its hard drive. Willhide eventually got it back and attempted to recover the data, only to find that her image files were corrupted. Rather than despair, she took misfortune as an opportunity, further enhancing the picture’s distortion in a collaboration of sorts with the machine.

The results are inkjet prints that are the equivalent of visual stuttering. Bodies — seemingly a favorite subject of Willhide’s — are fragmented into hard-edged, repeating slices. A woman in a bikini becomes an elongated stack of open mouths and breasts. Two other women are nothing but heads hovering over nondescript towers made of the same chunk of information repeated over and over. In another print, a muscled man holds a woman up over his head, but their bodies are segmented and interrupted by stripes of hot blues, greens and pinks.


In some cases the images recall early postmodern collage, the striated effects of video distortion, or sleek geometric abstraction. But more interesting is the way in which they reveal the processes of a digital “mind” that doesn’t work in the same way that ours do. In these images, it becomes exceedingly clear that the computer thinks, not in terms of overall form, or light and shadow, but in relentless rows of data. All digital images are created line by line, without regard to pictorial cohesion. Any pixel is as good as any other. On a basic level, Willhide’s work asks what we are looking at when we look at an image. It used to be brushstrokes on canvas, light hitting a chemical emulsion, or dots of ink on paper. Now, more often than not it is points of light, distanced from any direct physical stimuli, that coalesce into recognizable forms — or not.

--Sharon Mizota

Kaycee Olsen Gallery, 2685 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 837-8945, through May 7. Closed Sunday through Tuesday.