Davide Coltro's "Living Shrouds," detail

One hundred black-and-white portraits, with an emphasis toward the black end of the scale, repetitively line the walls of this solo exhibition by new media Milan-based artist Davide Coltro (on view April 1 through May15, 2010). Each work measures 16-by-13 inches and is encased in a plastic sleeve; the sole break in the lineup: a screen, similar in size to the portraits, playing a random feed of hundreds of these images, here brightly colored, melding slowly into each other, one after the next.

The portraits, which feature Coltro’s friends or people he’s met, were created with a standard office photocopier; the subject laid his or her head on the machine. This accounts for the mostly three-quarter or full profiles, with only a few head-on shots. The method also explains the darkness of the images and that everything surrounding the face is black.

To create the continually morphing screen feed, the artist uses a proprietary algorithm he wrote, which resizes, colors, and combines the portraits. The screen recalls and further pushes the work, “[Systems],” featured in the artist’s first exhibition at Wolfe Contemporary (2007), which focused on landscape. Again, Coltro approaches a traditional genre through his lens of unique technology.
While the printouts serve to support the screen module, the combination works well as a whole. While the screen steadily presents a never-ending march of faces over time, the single portraits snaking the gallery walls offer the whole crowd, all at once. And both views upend the genre: whereas portraiture originally highlighted an individual’s uniqueness, set him or her apart, these streams of faces remind us that we are one of many. The xeroxing process, which renders a visual sameness, reinforces this . So stark, unflattering, and similarly produced are the images, beauty and status become a non-factor. The end result is one of equitability and unification.

The one off-putting aspect of the show is the plastic encasing of the images; wavy and reflective, it makes the portraits difficult to see. (It’s curious to learn that this display was insisted on by the artist.) But still, the show works. The flow of images is harmonious; the screen, especially, is mesmerizing. And, this is at its heart a conceptual piece; it is the idea we take with us. We are all a part of this, in it together. There’s a comfort in that.

This review originally ran in art, ltd magazine.

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