Rosana Schoijett, Zavaleta Lab Arte Contemporáneo

By María Gainza

In 1904, as Virginia Woolf lay in bed recovering 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 metaphor, a parallelism between birds and the human psyche, permeates Rosana Schoijett’s splendid collages.

Schoijett creates images that trip over themselves with narrative, at times even contradicting each other the way they can only in collage: In Sin titulo (Untitled) (all works 2010), the coy mistress of Vermeer’s painting The Girl with a Wineglass, 1659–1660, has been turned into a harpy—or is it a dove? In another collage, Sin titulo (Untitled), 2010, a woman, her head hidden by heavy suffocating cloth, plays with feathery hands at the virginal. The image, from Vermeer’s Young Woman Seated at Virginal, 1670, is rich with associations; she could be a siren luring men to their death, but also Philomela or Procne who in Greek myth became a swallow and a nightingale respectively.

Drawing on old art magazines, Schoijett creates her collages by sewing images together by only a few loose stitches. This give them an almost sculptural quality: The image springs out of the plane, flutters, while maintaining a delicate stability. It reminds us of Lily Briscoe’s painting in 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 turn the collage over you can see the threads crossing over the background image. It looks like a constellation on an astral chart. At the same time there is an archeological feeling to this, as if Schoijett used images as layers that could be 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. For while the particular 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 here an ancient tradition: the one which recognized man’s soul in his shadow, and a shadow in his soul. In Peter Schlemihl’s Remarkable Story (1814), Adelbert von Camisso told the tale of a man who sells his shadow to the devil in exchange for a bottomless wallet only to realize 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.

It is not a new preoccupation: Her photographic series “Kiosko,” 2003-2010, showed the artist, who at the time worked as a photojournalist, posed beside prominent figures of the Argentine political and fashion scene, sometimes smiling candidly, in other images 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 the image of someone can be. Schoijett’s new work is a courageous step towards a more intimate exploration, but the questions remain strangely the same. 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.

Artforum, art magazine, January 2011. Online article.