Irina Rozovsky: Turn the Sun
Jan 6
Feb 17, 2024
Irina Rozovsky

Irina Rozovsky’s exhibition at Tureen begins with the Sisyphean command of its title, Turn the Sun; what more impossible feat than to bend this star to a single will? The works in the show do in many ways resist dominant conventions, not least of which may be photography’s mechanical illusion of total control. But the heavy handed phrasing of the title should serve as a knowing linguistic cue—this command, in the French and Spanish translation, is in fact an acceptance of the sun’s power in its Russian translation, “under the sun.” For this exhibition the artist finds herself both bending and surrendering to the pull of an extant force, be it art historical or closely personal. Unlike her past series, this group is tied not to a singular geography but rather to an aesthetic urgency Rozovsky felt in her making. These works arrive with the artist in tow. 

Cliches of art history recur throughout the photographs on view, a challenge Rozovsky poses to herself and to her medium. The images of a gliding swan or a Van Gogh sunflower approach indulgence in their saccharine beauty. Two hands meet under moonlight in the most sentimental of gestures. Close relatives of the artist, including her daughter, appear in multiple works, the family album cum exhibition. Perhaps the most autobiographical of any in her oeuvre, Rozovsky chose these works, in part, for their power to simultaneously accept and transcend such tropes. Here the personal is universal. From a chance encounter with a sunflower field on a trip to France to an accidental doubling of film capturing three generations of her family, the narrative and aesthetic underpinnings of each image are as intimately revealed as they’d be in a scroll through one’s iPhone photos. Autobiography, motherhood, the beauty of nature—Rozovsky turns these cliches inward and embraces their lingering pictorial effects, their mirroring of the lives of the artist and viewer as beguiling as ever. 

There is a sense of the celestial moving through these works, an influence or stimuli beyond art history. Each one culled from a different era of Rozovsky’s life. Like marking the height of a child on a doorframe, their selection denotes the artist’s place in time and space. Some force draws this constellation further and further away from the realism of earlier series, and its imagery thrives on the varied glows of possible culprits. In one work, Untitled, glass bottles of irradiated color orbit a female figure like so many planets in the mind’s eye. In another, also Untitled, a grocery store orchid sits alone on a bed of snow engulfed in the flame of winter sun. Even the sunflowers, having wilted overnight in the moon’s withholding glow, turn toward the suggestion of sunrise. The more the work gives over to the origins of its making, to the light that makes it so, the further we see into the artist’s surrender to a different order. 

The cyanotype has just such an origin. An indigo trace unchanged since its notable use by 19th Century botanist Anna Atkins is here a novel but deliberate technique employed by Rozovsky for the first time. For many it is itself a cliche among photographic methods, another trope with which the artist wrestles to prove that sentimentality can belie a more universal, cosmic appeal. In this exhibition junk mail envelopes are the conduit for images of transparent material. Water, plastic, lace are all elements that both obscure and reveal, a characteristic reflected in the windows of the envelopes. As artwork they conceal but as frame they portent, their cyclical return always near. 

Rozovsky’s exaltation of these ephemera—discarded envelopes, pictorial cliches, thrift store frames—is freeing. With these works she grants herself an almost painterly permission to flit between singular inspirations, like a collector’s eye across the object scape of an antique market. The works on pedestal from her Miracle Center series are a quite literal manifestation of this impulse. Acquired over a period of many years from eBay or estate sales, they are found objects once containing the most precious of a stranger’s memories. Into these vessels the artist places her own precious cargo, photographs that might once have been relinquished to storage in her phone. Neither the frames nor the images originally occupying them were the subject of any grand design, but Rozovsky’s intervention does not pretend to derail that inevitability. It’s in the act of saving rather than the fate from which something is saved where such small miracles transpire.