Body Language: Michal Rovner’s Evolution at Pace
Michal Rovner: Evolution at Pace Gallery
May 4 to August 17, 2018
537 West 24th Street and 510 West 25th Street, both between 10th and 11th avenues
New York CIty, pacegallery.com
At first glance, the tiny wriggling strokes repeated in line formation in each of Michal Rovner’s large video-based tableaux appear to be legs, or the balletically pointed toes, perhaps, of variously jerking and swaying dancers. (Rovner’s technique entails an ingenious capture of what look to be vignettes of individual video deployed in an extended grid.) But these gyrating limbs could also be chromosomes bouncing back and forth. Or maybe some kind of inkblot test, eluding identification. Whatever these simplified human shapes are, they’re stripped of uniqueness.
“Evolution” is shown at both the 24th and 25th Street locations of Pace Gallery. In both venues, Rovner’s compelling formats vary. The video-based tableaux predominate, but there are also several static images, printed on paper,Cipher 2 (2018), for example, that resemble barcodes or smudged lines from a typewriter. There are video-based sculptural works and a full-room video installation, Mechanism (2018). The immersive experience of this last piece, though silent, synaesthetically conveys a visualization of static sound in the sudden shifting of the small black figures. Like Mechanism, but in tableau format, Matches 2 (2018) also features the abstracted human blobs, this time red instead of the ubiquitous black and white. They gesticulate like specimens trapped behind glass that are aware of being watched. The forms become an eye test: You try to make out letters or some recognizable hieroglyph within the constant movement, but the wiggling, blurred digits resist definition.
In Urgency (2017), where the shapes are still writhing and waving, red splays across their blurry heads like a heat signature – splotchy and angry. These figures, in contrast to the vaguely comical, insistent buoyancy that pervades the rest of this show, appear desperate, whether or not they know they are being targeted.
Elsewhere, the abstracted forms act like language. Take Gmara (2018), for example. This consists of a vitrine encasing a projection on stone tablet in which the person-smudges operate like lines of text. Gemara is the analysis and commentary section of the Talmud. This title, like so many of others in the show, complicates the meaning of the piece, casting not only archival, but also religious connotations. This referentiality, as well as the distinct line work that separates the blobs, connects “Evolution” to Rovner’s larger body of work by evoking political and social issues: separation through borders and conflict, individual and societal relationships, and human migration. The restrained movements of the figures, as well as the lack of obvious personhood and individuality, might bring to mind the Israel-Palestine conflict, for instance, a topic on which Rovner (who is Israeli) has worked before, as in Makom (Place), 2006, which used rubble from both Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods to create a new structure.
The proliferating interpretations brought to mind by Rovner’s abstracted forms complicate the title of the show. Does “Evolution” refer to human evolution, as in the growth of either an individual, a society, or a species? Or are we in the political realm, confronting issues of shifting alliances and leadership? Or perhaps there’s a quip here about a lack of evolution: human stubbornness, with the same indistinguishable blobs bouncing back and forth without making progress. Rovner’s rhythmically meditative and yet thematically challenging works encourage the kind of slow looking that allows for multiple interpretations. Her morphing forms legitimize each of these possibilities, as well as others.
At both venues varying dimness in the lighting creates spaces for thoughtful contemplation, as well as a mood which ultimately turns the viewer into a kind of embryo, allowing us, too, to evolve.