Smudged figures in vast landscapes appear to come to life as the Israeli artist combines tradition with new technology to animate her compositions
A series of figures are shrunk until they appear simply as dark smudges; intangible and mysterious, they roam across the walls of Pace Gallery, London, animated into being in Michal Rovner’s solo show Panorama. Questions arise. Who are they? Where do they come from, and where are they going? There are stories to be found here, hidden behind these unknown journeys across time and space.
Rovner’s figures are projected onto walls, pages and LCD screens, moving through the cracks, ridges and textured features that form their material base. At turns their motions are hypnotically ritualistic, marching in orderly lines along the walls like text. At other moments, these manifest in chaotic patterns; in ‘Data Zone’, figures spread out like microorganisms in a petri dish. They are out of any sense of time, inhabiting a vast expanse within a story that remains inherently abstract. “There is always movement in my work, but there is never a beginning, middle or end. You can’t know where they’re going; I call most of these works situations,” says Rovner.
Simplified to the most basic of outlines, her figures are reduced both in detail and size, their vagueness of forms evoking a complex emotional response. “When I record, I erase identifying details, the locality, the context.” says Rovner, whose figures are real people, filmed in a variety of locations, edited both manually and digitally, and resized before they are projected. She is decisive on her choice to work with film footage as opposed to animation. “There is something about the real thing. Even if I break it, erase it, rearrange or change it, there is a core essence to each of them that remains; some kind of an evidence towards a possible reality, and something that you can feel.”
There is always movement in my work, but there is never a beginning, middle or end. You can’t know where they’re going.
With little to identify each form in Rovner’s work, they emerge as powerfully universal, carrying messages of both the ancient and the contemporary. The figures are little more than light, existing purely in relation to the material landscapes onto which they are projected, and many of the artist’s series feature settings with their own stories to tell. The ‘Makom’ sculptures feature stones from dismantled houses in Israel and Palestine, while her ‘Current’ exhibition featured the walls of an old industrial plant. Both carry residues of time, demonstrating the persistence of memory now enacted through the gaze of the viewer. “I’m always thinking there are other layers of time that are still communicating,” Rovner says. “I like to strip it down to the basic, and then shift it to another place, which is usually some kind of a non-place, or any place. This way it could be anybody, anywhere: some kind of a living thing.”
In Panorama, digitally edited photographs and stills of barren landscapes reveal textured patterns that are tinted, layered and positioned like stops in time. At first glance and from a distance, they appear like paintings or etchings, but on closer inspection, the textures and figures come to life. “They're thrown into a pattern, and they have to find their way through it,” she explains. Her screens are high definition, and yet some images appear soft and grainy – an effect achieved by taking apart the screens and placing Japanese paper inside them. “It gives a texture and cuts down the static of the screen, mattifying and smoothing it. They are very carefully rebuilt handmade almost.” These grainy disruptions are created throughout the editing process, as Rovner cuts and colours her images, carving out irregular pathways and new vectors of movement. “I want to express materiality, like brushstrokes or drawings,” she says. “Some kind of marriage between the nonmaterial and material.”
There is something about the real thing. Some kind of an evidence towards a possible reality, and something that you can feel.
Rovner’s work touches upon the vast phenomena of refugees, and of migration going on in the world. It is a recurring concern with human dynamics that emerges. Themes of destitution, survival and boundaries emanate from the work, and human fragility is both depicted and disputed as her figures persist. “It’s a unresolved text about humanity,” she concludes.
Panorama by Michal Rovner is on show at Pace London until 15th June 2015.