Michal Rovner's photographic and video work reflects a geographically untethered sensibility that perhaps results from the artist's practice of dividing her time between Israel and New York. Using subject matter ranging from farmhouses in the Israeli countryside to broadcast images of the Gulf War, she reworks source material in a manner that recalls both the pictorialism of Edward Steichen and the digitized and manipulated imagery of more recent artists working with new photographic technologies. In Rovner's work, figuration and figure-ground relationships are destabilized, as she pushes the boundaries of representational art. Expanding the notion of a photograph as an index of the real, she seeks to create images that extend beyond the physical and temporal specificity of what is registered by the camera's lens. She instead searches for a more universal sense of truth while exploring notions of selfhood and autonomy. For Rovner it is critical that her point of departure be rooted in the empirical reality before the camera. She brings her own reflections and inflections to the image, reworking it in her studio until it functions as a document of a process—her own response to the initial subject matter and her creative activity—as opposed to a single moment in time.
For the series One-Person Game Against Nature I (1992), Rovner photographed a group of figures floating in the Red Sea in the dim light of dusk. Shooting from a high angle to eliminate the horizon line, she made two sets of images: one with a Polaroid SX-70 camera, the other with a video camera. Rovner then digitally manipulated the images and altered the color during the processing, so that the bodies would appear to hover in amorphous states. Details and context are thus eliminated from the resulting work, and the haunting, resonant imagery that emerges is suggestive of spiritual and metaphoric states. The series also takes as a conceptual conceit ideas from game theory, in which individuals engaged in a competitive situation—economic, political, military, or otherwise—determine an optimal strategy based on the assumed goals, actions, and reactions of the other participants. Here nature itself, or perhaps the human condition, is the challenger.
A more recent work, China (1995), is a suite of four highly evocative, blurred photographic images tinted a deep crimson, suggesting the merest hint of back- and foreground. The middle ground is occupied by a line formation of figures slowly marching forward. While Rovner visited China in 1995 and gave the suite a geographic title, these images nonetheless suggests a more ambiguous, almost cosmological setting, one of struggle as the figures press on in their journey, their blurred movements barely captured.