By Holly Myers
August 3, 2012, 5:33 a.m.
The most striking thing about the work in “I Am Katrina,” Jessica Wimbley’s solo debut at Western Project, is how peculiar it is. True visual weirdness of the sort that jolts one into paying attention, if for no other reason than because it eludes the standard channels of qualitative association, is rare enough in any artist still within a stone’s throw of graduate school. (Wimbley earned her MFA at UC Davis in 2005.)
It is all the more impressive in this case, given the well-trodden (if worthy) nature of Wimbley’s themes — identity, history, colonialism, diaspora, the gaze — and the clumsily democratic character of her medium, digital collage.
The works, all basically photographic, revolve around a young, black, female figure in a beaded necklace and a burlap sarong: the artist in the role of a quasi-mythical character named Katrina. Based loosely on the legend surrounding Marie Thérèse Coincoin, a freed slave in colonial Louisiana who became a land-owning entrepreneur, Katrina is an enigmatic but powerful presence, floating through Wimbley’s world with the air of a prophet or sorceress.
The weirdness lies largely in the world itself: a lush, cluttered, spatially disjointed milieu filled with bamboo forests, shanty architecture and traces of a ubiquitous yellow brick road, overlaid with patterns from Navajo blankets and designer textiles, images of American soldiers, Depression-era bread lines, suburban mansions, police violence protest posters, New Orleans’ flooded 9th Ward, a cherubic flock of distraught Haitian children, microscopic DNA, and garish illustrations of the universe.
Whether the pieces “work” or not is difficult to say. They’re ungainly and awkward and littered with strange compositional glitches, but all more captivating for it.
Western Project, 2762 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 838-0609, through Aug. 11. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.western-project.com