Magnetism Generates New Effects

By Fabián Lebenglik

A show of abstract photographs registers the effect of magnets on iron shavings. Magnetism, attraction and repulsion as a metaphor for intimacy.

Two years ago, in the Fan section of this newspaper’s cultural supplement, the Argentine photographer Rosana Schoijett published an article about her favorite photograph: a portrait from the late-1970s by William Eggleston that shows a woman dressed in electric blue.

In explaining why she likes that photograph, Schoijett evidences her own poetic. “I love that:” she says, “the latent that is about to explode, the sense of an impending storm. Electricity.” […] “That controlled ambiguity,” she goes on, “is what fascinates me about this photograph. And I go after something like that in my own work. A seemingly pleasant surface on which things begin to appear. Something that grasps you, that speaks to you, that tells you to keep looking, that there is much more to see.” […] “His photography,” said Schoijett about Eggleston, “was compared to Blue Velvet (1989), the David Lynch film where the evidence of evil hides behind the smooth suburban lawn.”
What draws Rosana Schoijett to the poetic of that celebrated North American photographer is also a way into her work. Rosana Schoijett was born in Buenos Aires in 1969. She exhibited her first works in 1989 and, since then, her work has been included in solo and group exhibitions.
Schoijett studied film at the Instituto de Arte Cinematográfico de Avellaneda. From 1990 to 1992, she took studio classes in photographic vision from Alberto Goldenstein. Starting in 1992, she has worked as a photographer for graphic media. From 1999 to 2002, she took classes in contemporary art from Fabiana Barreda. She was selected to participate in the Artes Visuales Rojas/Kuitca Program for the Visual Arts (2003-2005), during which she published Temporada (Season), a book of portraits of fellow participants in the program. In 2006 she participated in Fundación Telefónica’s Intercampos II program.
In 2007, she participated in RIAA, Residencia Internacional de Artistas en Argentina, and her project Entrevista (Interview) was selected for the ArteBA-Petrobras 07 prize.
Schoijett’s work consists of visually and conceptually complex series. Each series advances over the previous one, including it, condensing it and exceeding it in order to turn to something else.
An arbitrary point of departure for this series might be Estacionamientos (Parking, 1999). In that series, there are corners, rooms, empty spaces, a certain sordidness, visual textures and an absence of people. The name of the series (Parking) suggests stillness, sedimentation, immobility.
In 2001, she made the series La voz del interior (The Inner Voice), where she photographed words and phrases found on signs, in neon lights and advertisements. Words in the streets like voices of the urban consciousness that, literally or not, say something about the environment regardless of literariness or intention.
Next comes the 2003 series Encrucijadas (Crossroads). Here for the first time there are solitary figures in ambiguous, passing, uncomfortable or foreign places. The Kiosco (Kiosk) and Temporada (Season) series are both from 2005. In the first she presents an arbitrary gallery of celebrities –actors, sex symbols, artists, politician, businessmen–, but with an addendum: the presence of the photographer in each shot. Depending on the image, Schoijett appears like a satellite, an acolyte, a lady-in-waiting, a fan… a subject of portrait. Portraits and self-portraits where the photographer is an intruder produced through a negotiation. Her image next to each star is biting, ironic; more than a fan, she becomes an ally of the viewer. In Temporada (Season) the artist-fellows are “interpreted” in terms of their work and according to a particular light, personality, context…

The result is also ironic, but the irony is shared by the subject and the photographer and, hence, devoid of cynicism.
The group of photographs in the Entrevista (Interview) series (2006), which was one of the five finalists in the 2007 edition of the ArteBA Petrobras award, reveals a system of interpersonal relationships. The eye is a spy’s eye and intimacy is a piece of information often duplicated or reflected in mirrors.
Now the photographer exhibits a new series. Though very different formally, conceptually this work furthers her earlier projects: from object to subject, from solitude to relation, from there to intimacy. Now intimacy is entirely subjective.
In this series, the artist photographs iron shavings which are subject to the magnetic forces of magnets placed under a canvas. The resulting image looks, at first, like abstract drawings or paintings that the eye gradually recognizes as photographs. After almost twenty years of working in color, these works appear to be in black and white due to the blackness of the iron shavings and the whiteness of the support. The particles of color, the temperature of the air, the textures and shades of the support, however, ultimately reveal that, though color is missing, its absence is not absolute. Along with the series of abstract photographs are images of the magnets used by the artist, revealing the device employed to make the series. This allows the visitor to look at the exhibition as something other than a detective. The eye is released to these outbreaks and knots, to the “drawings” produced when iron particles are exposed to magnetic force. This work is necessarily linked to Schoijett’s earlier work, specifically to its light; now the question of attraction and repulsion in interpersonal relations is key.
If, in the Entrevista (Interview) series, intimacy was presented as an enigma (that which is barely seen), the treatment, the figures and the “reality” photographed entailed objectivation. Here, that objectivation is entirely lost to the terrain of pure subjectivity. Now intimacy is a metaphor that emerges from each work. Schoijett chooses for this series a title that is also a quotation: A woman under influence. If in the Kiosco (Kiosk) series the photographer has an ambiguous and ironic relationship with her subjects, now she herself is the women under influence. And the shift she effects here is absolute as her photography becomes introspective.
The influences are many: inevitably, the John Cassavetes film (A Woman under the Influence) which, like all the films by that great director, deals with the question of relationships (social relationship, group relationships, erotic relationships and couple relationships). The influence of painting, printmaking and drawing is also felt here, Van Gogh and Goya, among others (perhaps one’s sunflowers and traces of the other’s illustrations).
And other influences: fascination with the materiality of the magnetic fields in the behavior of the iron shavings, something that almost everyone discovers in certain childhood games. Before the effect of physics, Schoijett can now, as an adult, go from the magnetized corpuscles to the magnetism of bodies and their rubbing, to encounter in sexuality. Outbursts, swirling figures, flowers, cocoons, tides; lines and accumulations of thousands of points, like vestiges of prior or imminent actions… an entire sequence of associations both multiple and free. But they are first evoked there, in the movements, in the expansive waves of energy set off by the magnets, in the effects of attraction and in the reaction of repulsion.
As Javier Villa writes in the exhibition catalogue, the series “flirts with abstraction and pure form by seeming to dissolve the allure of the figurative referent.”
The movements of attraction and repulsion –and here we return to the question of influences– can define a poetic, a personality, a system of tastes, a list of repulsions; they can draw a genealogy, express a subjectivity.
So we return to the beginning of this article and take another look at what the artist says about the photographs of another, not to define him, but rather to read these photographs in terms of her point of view or, rather, her own body of work.

Plástica (Arts Section) ROSANA SCHOIJETT’S PHOTOGRAPHS AT THE ERNESTO CATENA GALLERY. Página 12 newspaper. Tuesday, February 26, 2008. Online article.