Foggy thought

Union Gallery exhibit questions the skewed nature of self-reflection

BFA student Monika Rosen’s exhibit brings up themes of questioning self-identity by blurring out the subjects’ faces in her oil paintings.
BFA student Monika Rosen’s exhibit brings up themes of questioning self-identity by blurring out the subjects’ faces in her oil paintings.

The eyes are essential. But what happens when you can’t see them?

Monika Rosen’s exhibit Self-Refraction explores the subject of hidden self-identity and murky self-reflection.

While the exhibit succesfully raises the question of self-conception by hiding figures’ eyes in most of the paintings, it remains equally intriguing as it is monotonous.

Despite the limited space in Union Gallery’s Project Room, what could’ve been a stimulating show became compositionally repetitious. However, the artist’s work is universally relatable with its themes of “clarity in self-perception” and “the relationship between the subconscious and reality.” While I saw an occasional spark in the exhibit, it wasn’t enough to start a fire.

Walking into the Project Room, where the exhibit is currently housed, I was drawn to “By the Water I”— perhaps owing to its distinction from the remainder of the artwork on the walls.

In the oil painting, a young male stands by what seems to be Kingston’s rocky shore, with Wolfe Island in the background.

I found myself wondering what the man was thinking behind his grey eyes. His mouth was partly opened, as if on the verge of sharing his inner thoughts. This painting perfectly encapsulates the hazy, in-between atmosphere of Rosen’s flowing, watery exhibit. Through Rosen’s practice of blurring crucial aspects of her portraits, her works mirror the distorting and magnifying properties of water.

Self-Refraction has potential, but begs further development. The better part of the exhibit consisted of the same dark-haired female figure immersed in water. While repetition has its merits, in this case, the ideology behind the artwork doesn’t quite stand on its own.

I got the sense that the exhibit hadn’t fully matured. However, I did appreciate the fearful stream it began to take, which added an intriguing dimension.

Several of the works involved an unnerving quality due, in part, to their elucidating titles. “Eisoptrophobia I,” a word denoting the fear of your own reflection, captures such distress through the female’s concerned eyebrows and troubled appearance, despite her partially distorted face.

She’s completely encompassed by a substance defined by its reflective properties — the very basis of her fear. But the question of whether she’s frightened not only of her self-reflection, but of her self-identity as well remained with me. The evocation of these types of questions shows hints of the exhibit’s thematic insight.

What was admirable in Rosen’s work was how each piece was like a vortex — they pull you into an unstable, rippling world that’s characteristic of the symbolic water in her exhibit.

While it was frustrating that any clear view of the figures’ eyes were obscured, I appreciated the denial because of its elucidating effect. The intent of the exhibit became clear despite its distorting subject matter.

Monika Rosen’s Self-Refraction is on exhibit in the Project Room of Union Gallery until Mar. 19.

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