Pictura Gallery

Karen Navarro | The Constructed Self

December 15, 2021


Glossy and glowing, the pieces in The Constructed Self pulse with color, as powerfully attractive as nectar to a bee. But viewers are unable to quickly consume the imaged person; subjects are segmented and viewed in parts, like forms in the vision of an insect.

Karen Navarro breaks her portraits into tiles, which can be built and rearranged into different iterations of the person every time the work is exhibited. The tiles could be thought of as pixels, or cells. They are the building blocks of a greater whole, predetermined by a malleable but singular configuration. Navarro disrupts the automatic fast read of a portrait, often hiding the face of her subjects and dispersing clues about each person throughout the frame. Her beautiful constructions convey that each self has many overlapping parts, and that people present different sides of their identities in different circumstances.

The second body of work on display, El Pertenecer en Tiempos Modernos (Belonging in Modern Times) deals with self-representation as it relates to social media. Strangers answer a digital call to sit for portraits in Navarro’s studio. She then scrambles their image by laser cutting the piece into smaller geometric shapes. The portraits, composed of shuffled strips, show a distorted self or a partial, arranged identity like those constructed for social media.

Navarro draws out the complex, contradictory nature of self representation via social media. It can feel empowering to shape the way that others experience and perceive our image. But so too can it spiral downward, as we pick ourselves apart or fixate on undesirable details. Or at times, our identity can be whirled away from our control by others, and distorted, like a tweet taken out of context. This tension over control is expressed visually in Navarro’s sliced photographs as she shuffles and rearranges the figures.

The physicality of Navarro’s pieces plays an important role in our experience of her subjects. In Twisted, the show’s most sculptural piece, the figure radiates into three-dimensional space. The photograph takes on an uncanny sense of presence in the room as the portrait is fanned onto several planes. By engaging in a three-dimensional process, rather than staying within a single plane, Navarro activates another level of perception.

- Mia Dalglish + Lisa Woodward

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