• Paulina Wallenberg-Olsson: New Population
  • Milk Maids (2001), Paulina Wallenberg-Olsson, Iris on translite 23 1/2" h x 42" w

  • Paulina Wallenberg-Olsson: New Population
  • Dolly and Molly (2001), Paulina Wallenberg-OlssonIris on translite 23 1/2" h x 42" w

Scandinavian Cybermaidens, Bald Maids, and More

With this U.S. debut of her New Population Iris prints on translite, conceptual and performance artist and Gary Hill collaborator Paulina Wallenberg-Olsson introduced the cute and creepy inhabitants of her digital, and mighty surrealistic, dollhouse. They’re a community of computer-created, mostly female figures with blurred, seemingly melting doll heads and eyes inflated to a freakish Margaret Keane scale. Call them the Simms on acid.

Cobbled together on the computer, Frankenstein style, with scanned doll appendages and various three-dimensional objects, these characters are a fusion of global influences, most notably Japanese anime, the graphic design of international children’s books, and Scandinavian folk traditions, the latter a reference to the artist’s native Sweden.

That country influence is all over a diptych called Milk Maids (2001) in which Wallenberg-Olsson creates a Scandinavian cybermaiden in a traditional peasant dress with the metallic arms of a robot superhero. In the first panel, her weaponlike hands are ominous, but in the second, they become maternal, spraying powerful streams of milk into pails. She’s a Nordic goddess related to Takashi Murakami’s three-dimensional porn princess, who creates a similarly powerful flow from her breasts, or perhaps a cast member of a future Toy Story.

The multipaneled pieces often suggest oblique narratives. The elegant, gray-toned Oona 1 and 2 (2001) follows the disjointed adventures of two bald maids who float in space along with geometric shapes that resemble pills, eggs, worms, and doorbells by hip Dutch designers. If it’s impossible to fathom just what the artist’s thinking of, the images are nonetheless memorable for suggesting what Matthew Barney might make if he were a girl.

From a distance, Wallenberg-Olsson’s characters look slick and seamless, but up close, they exhibit a digital crudeness. Her scanned sources for limbs and textures become apparent, as do seams and digital shadows. There’s an interesting tension between the funkiness of the old-style computer modeling and the general high-tech aura of these work, but it’s difficult to know if that’s the artist’s intent. Ultimately, it’s the imagery that rules. This is one population that you may not want to join, but you won’t likely forget.

Paulina Wallenberg-Olsson: New Population is on view at Gallery 16, 1616 Sixteenth Street, San Francisco, California. For more information, call (415)626-7495 or visit www.urbandigitalcolor.com.


— Glen Helfand is a member of the Stretcher crew.