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To Remain Bluish: On Othiana Roffiel's 'Rehearsal of Becoming' at Karen Huber Gallery

Review

To Remain Bluish: On Othiana Roffiel's 'Rehearsal of Becoming' at Karen Huber Gallery

by Bruno Enciso

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Reading time

5 min

The painter Othiana Roffiel presents her most recent production, created specifically for her second solo exhibition at Karen Huber Gallery. On the longest wall of the room, we find two small-format paintings that share composition values, each mounted at one end. At the center of the same wall, there is a third medium-format painting in whose internal composition we can distinguish something that resembles a bouquet of flowers or sparks. A cluster of gestures sprouting from the center of the canvas. Wide and clear areas of air separate the three pieces. It becomes immediately clear that work has been done with a sense of balance that favors prudence over provocation (and seeks to be explicit about it). It might be tempting to complain that there aren’t many artworks, but all of them assertively occupy their rightful place.

Exhibition view of ‘Rehearsal of Becoming’ by Othiana Roffiel at Galería Karen Huber. Courtesy of the artist and Galería Karen Huber
Exhibition view of ‘Rehearsal of Becoming’ by Othiana Roffiel at Galería Karen Huber. Courtesy of the artist and Galería Karen Huber

The dominant blue present in all the paintings cannot be overlooked—a bold decision with a certain level of risk. A panoramic view might hastily immerse all the pieces in the same semantic regime. Or it might make us think that as viewers, we are asked to adopt a particular temperament. It's only when we compare the differences of each piece that the blue ceases to appear as a premeditated or seminal pattern. It functions more as a motif for these pieces than as a birthmark. Sometimes sky, sometimes ground, cosmos, water, skin, or just an intensity. It's not a matter of polysemy but of multiplicity.

The exhibition text mentions that for this series, Othiana deliberately abandoned references so that each painting is the product of a singular and self-contained exploration. In these paintings, it couldn't be claimed that the absence of a fixed and always visible reference implied starting from a flat void, eagerly waiting to be filled by highly expressive gestures or a hurried improvisation. On the contrary, all of them participate in some form of suspension, where nothing moves at its maximum possible speed.

Exhibition view of ‘Rehearsal of Becoming’ by Othiana Roffiel at Galería Karen Huber. Courtesy of the artist and Galería Karen Huber
Exhibition view of ‘Rehearsal of Becoming’ by Othiana Roffiel at Galería Karen Huber. Courtesy of the artist and Galería Karen Huber

I wonder about the place of textuality in the works. It's easy to identify a poetic impulse, but I don't believe they all share the same sense of enunciation. Some could be verses, while others something more akin to stage direction, happening within parentheses. The Rehearsal mentioned in the title seems to speak of that pre-scenic instance, where the event is not assumed concrete, ready to be represented. This observation interferes again with the inertia of integrating the entire exhibition; in fact, it scatters it. I think of that theatrical device of treating an open project as a work in progress, a formal pause that allows one to consider what has been worked on and make decisions accordingly. Rather than objecting to a sense of incompleteness, I would think it's evident that this is a living production still negotiating with itself. As a spectator, I find visiting a space that insists on staying in media res is very powerful, far from ideological pronouncement and the pressure to perform a masterful alternative.

Exhibition view of ‘Rehearsal of Becoming’ by Othiana Roffiel at Galería Karen Huber. Courtesy of the artist and Galería Karen Huber
Exhibition view of ‘Rehearsal of Becoming’ by Othiana Roffiel at Galería Karen Huber. Courtesy of the artist and Galería Karen Huber

It is very interesting, almost to the point of bewilderment, that despite the absence of any referential photographs, a certain clarity between planes and volumes persists, always supported by a discreet, soft symmetry. At the same time, the artist deploys a wide range of pictorial resources to prevent visuality from being reduced to two dimensions, halves, positive and negative spaces. Through meticulous treatment, the results oscillate between a subtly primordial universe and a diminished mystique, where there is no room for arbitrariness, and symbols have not quite settled.

Focused on the particularities of each piece, both individually and as a whole, I arrive at a question: In painting, how are the density and weight, of what we perceive as consistent, affected (if the force that originates it does not come from a specific place)? This exhibition opts for a certain economy of resources, a gaze that is patient, diligent, and avoids taking for granted the conditions in which bodies relate to external and internal worlds. But it could be resolved in other ways: a threshold opens. And we are far from operations of synthesis or analysis of overflowing gestures.

Exhibition view of ‘Rehearsal of Becoming’ by Othiana Roffiel at Galería Karen Huber. Courtesy of the artist and Galería Karen Huber
Exhibition view of ‘Rehearsal of Becoming’ by Othiana Roffiel at Galería Karen Huber. Courtesy of the artist and Galería Karen Huber

Othiana's exhibition seems very fruitful to me in that it contributes to a current discussion about the ineffectiveness of the figurative-abstract dichotomy as a guideline for contemporary painting. In this specific body of work, the positioning does not seem to involve superimposing both parts of the dichotomy, reconciling them for the comfort of the eye. While there is something graspable, ergonomic, or contemplative (modulated differently in each piece), there is also a tension that doesn't cease. It's not chaos that postpones meaning, but the enigmatic confrontation of forces moving in opposite directions. The gaze fails to decipher whether what expands truly desires to contract, if the soft edge regrets relaxing its precision. If any of the works manage to produce a verse, it must be read at least twice. Once out loud and once in silence.

The exhibition can be visited until November 17th in the main gallery space.

Bruno Enciso

Translated to English by Sebastián Antón-Ojeda

Published on Nov 10 2023