Michal Rovner [Isreal]


location: walls of garages, Gazownicza Str.

Figures and formations are as much a medium to Israeli artist Michal Rovner as film and video in her restless meditations on the migration of identity. Teeming masses of anonymous, projected people become her corresponding protagonists: moving endlessly across walls, floors, books, tablets and various other surfaces as a living form of language. Each character writes a story in and through their ensuing passage, much like Rovner’s winding path from ballet studies and military service to photography, videography, and the observation of crowd movement. Upon her relocation to New York City in 1988, geopolitical considerations of immigration, diaspora and groupthink became all the more immediate. Seeing the trans-national flow of people and information across city streets and television screens, Rovner began to understand flux as a 21st century human condition. She started to film these pilgrims from the window of her downtown loft; in the deserts of Israel; and upon the television news – simultaneously archiving and abstracting their individuality into Rorschach-like patterns. By stripping away the particularities of culture and context Rovner thereby moves from the micro to the macro: establishing an aerial perspective from which to study the tectonic movements of man. The titles of her work are equally broad and elusive, eschewing specifics to study the architecture of swarms. Like micro-organisms swirling in a planet-sized petri dish, her small, shadowy surrogates move in chaotic, but unmistakably conscious designs. Exodus and existence become one in their eternal movement.

Structures that fortify and repel are often considered in architectural terms, even as their true foundations rest in the acts of man, and the inclusive/exclusive nature of community. The twin garages on which Rovner’s works play are adjacent to both industry and residence, standing in the shadows of the Solidarity that brought citizens together, and the city walls that kept the “outsiders” out. Like a ring that is centripetal and centrifugal at once, this history spins like the circular formation of More where shadowy black figures walk in an endless march. At various points members of this mysterious circle evacuate the flock, repelled to the edges of Rovner’s panoramic white frame in a manner that does not seem of their choosing. Yet despite this intermittent culling the ring never grows thinner or less dense, continually repopulating itself with acolytes that only seem to grow in momentum, force and determination. Without rest – like a microcosm of larger populations the world over – instances of disaster, conflict and age fail to disrupt the regenerative properties of the life cycle. Observing the path/plight of man through the lens of her work, author David Grossman observes, “One can sense the life-memories that settle among them, the echoes of struggles that smothered them – the clash of tribes, of nations, of religions and armies that fought one another over land or power or honor, over freedom, over home. More than anything (my italics), they evoke the fragile human individual, crushed between these forces.” The ultimate affect is thus one of simultaneous agency and alienation, feeling part of a larger whole – a circle of life – that employs man as an inventory of interchangeable parts. This march is awe-inspiring and existential as such; enthralling and melancholic; seeing the self become lost and found in the unending spin of More.

Borders do not exist in nature, and could neither divide nor incite without the exercise of man and the enforcement of history. In this light, where More keeps its constituent figures in a tight, self-generating ring, Order sees opposing groups charging towards one another from opposite ends of a similarly expansive white field. Upon this stark, sublime panorama the characters have no identifying characteristics outside their bare motion – abstracted into the anonymous components of advancing armies. Yet as the seemingly warring factions meet in the center of Rovner’s unnamed battleground, they come to slow, merge, and ultimately move through one another as time advances and retreats in equally cryptic patterns. Along the way, inky impressions are momentarily formed in the fusions – but never for long enough to be contained by our apprehension. Instead, in the never-ending waves of never-ending combatants, the contending forces come to mirror and repeat one another: sliding into a perpetual cycle of conflict where the details of winners and losers fade into the larger scheme of history. As the specifics of “sides” become virtually indistinguishable, the disorder of Order aptly reflects the innumerable battles waged upon the timeworn soil of Poland. Bloody and battered to the numbing point of normalcy, the individuals yield their integrity to a uniform ground where war loops likes an inescapable cycle of the same, and the same, and the same.