Michal Rovner

MACRO Al Mattatoio / Studio Stefania Miscetti

The dynamic between the solitude of individuals and their relationship with others is the subject of two works Michal Rovner created for the spaces of MACRO Al Mattatoio, in Rome’s Testaccio neighborhood. Arena, 2003, is a large video installation consisting of projections on both floor and walls. The central image, a warped square filled with small figures, is projected onto a floor of close-packed sand. The figures at the top and bottom are standing, while those on the right and left sides are squeezed into a flattened perspective. At the center of the square, a man struggles with a bear—the symbol, according to Jung, of the dangerous aspect of the unconscious.

In the four double projections on the walls—like open books showing the same image on both pages—a multitude of small red and black figures, arranged in parallel rows, roil against a white background. They seem to be waving and gesticulating toward the fight in the arena, like exuberant spectators at a sports event, yet also seem to be signaling some danger. In the reiteration of their movements, repeated in a loop, the figures vainly attempt to assume individual identities: They are indefinite, indistinct, and anonymous, yet recognizable by their repetition of characteristic gestures.

Group membership is a prerequisite for survival, but it dissolves individual identity—an idea Rovner also explored in Time Left, 2002, a large installation at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York that was represented at the 2003 Venice Biennale. While it’s impossible to separate the existential condition expressed by Rovner from the situation of her native Israel, or from the dramatic conflicts that mark its history, she does not explicitly address anything political. Rather, she blurs the boundary between the personal and political as she does that between realism and abstraction, opting for an open-ended narration without territorial or cultural definitions but touching on universal themes that pertain to humanity’s collective experience.

The problem of the individual’s role within a group and of the dichotomy of solitude and community—intrinsic aspects of the human condition—are clearly expressed in the large-scale print on canvas at Studio Miscetti, Giorno e notte (Day and night), 2003. Here, two circles of figures stand out against a nondescript landscape like a pair of massive and imposing monolithic forms. They are closed, gray, and apparently anonymous throngs. Individual identity is diluted yet remains essential as a fundamental constituent of the community. Thus we sense the alienation experienced by those who live in exile, the difficulty of finding an identity in a foreign land, the unfulfilled need to be recognized and accepted by those who are similar.

In other photographically derived canvases in the show, groups of people appear in lines or circles against indistinct landscapes. They hold hands and seem to be seeking one another out, moving toward one another, gathering in closed groups. Their nomadism seems without destination; there is no end to their wanderings and no leaders to guide the groups. Rovner’s interventions in black and colored pencil almost cancel out the photographic character of the images beneath, giving the works great pictorial and graphic intensity. Thus the medium, too, is located in an in-between territory. Video stills get digitally manipulated, rephotographed, enlarged, blurred, and drawn on, losing their initial identity to become, in the process, something new. Through both symbolism and technique, Rovner questions our sense of reality and keeps her work at the edge of ambiguity.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.