Buenos Aires

Rosana Schoijett, Untitled, 2010, collage, 10 5/8 x 7 5/8".

Rosana Schoijett, Untitled, 2010, collage, 10 5/8 x 7 5/8".

Rosana Schoijett

Zavaleta Lab Arte Contemporáneo

Rosana Schoijett, Untitled, 2010, collage, 10 5/8 x 7 5/8".

In 1904, as Virginia Woolf lay in bed suffering from a nervous breakdown, she reported hearing birds singing in Greek. Later, the birds in her novel The Waves would play a striking role paralleling the developing consciousness of the characters. A similar metaphorical parallelism between birds and the human psyche permeates Rosana Schoijett’s splendid collages.

Schoijett creates images that trip over themselves with narratives that at times even contradict one another the way only collage can: In Untitled (all works 2010), the coy mistress of Vermeer’s painting The Girl with a Wineglass, circa 1659–60, has been turned into a harpy—or is it a dove? In another collage (also Untitled) a woman, her head hidden by heavy, suffocating cloth, plays a virginal with feathery hands. The image, from Vermeer’s Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, circa 1670, is rich with associations; she could be a siren luring men to their death, or also Philomela or Procne, who in Greek myth became a swallow and a nightingale respectively.

Drawing from old art magazines, Schoijett creates her collages by sewing images together with only a few loose stitches. This gives them an almost sculptural quality: The image springs out of the plane, flutters, while maintaining a delicate stability. Her works recall Lily Briscoe’s painting in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, “A thing you could ruffle with your breath; and a thing you could not dislodge with a team of horses.” For there is also a reverse side to every image: If you were to turn a collage over, you would see the threads crisscrossing on the back. The stitching looks like a constellation on an astral chart. At the same time there is an archeological feeling to the work, as Schoijett uses images as layers embedded in the compositions.

A second group of works presents a series of photographic silhouettes, head-and-shoulders profiles of people linked to the Argentine contemporary art scene. While the uniqueness of each person appears in the recognizable contours of their features, at the same time each is shown as an unfathomable shadow, with all trace of individuality effaced. Schoijett exploits an ancient tradition: one that recognized man’s soul in his shadow and a shadow in his soul. In The Wonderful History of Peter Schlemihl (1814), Adelbert von Chamisso told the tale of a man who sells his shadow to the devil in exchange for a bottomless wallet, only to realize that a man without a shadow is a man with no identity. At the bottom of Schoijett’s work also lies a question about the construction of individuality—how it can be created, invented, and manipulated.

This is not a new preoccupation: Her photographic series “Kiosko,” 2003–10, showed the artist, who at the time worked as a photojournalist, posed beside prominent figures on the Argentine political and fashion scenes, sometimes smiling candidly, in other works looking distant or even patronizing. Some of the photographs were hilarious, some uncomfortable, but as a whole they gave a lucid sense of just how rickety and contingent an image of someone can be. Schoijett’s new work is a courageous step toward a more intimate exploration, but the original questions remain. Then as now, the sanctuary of personality has been smashed into pieces, shattered by the same person who helps, in her pictures, to construct it.

María Gainza