Alighiero e Boetti

Galerie Eric Franck

By adding a simple “e” (and) between his first and last names, Alighiero e Boetti makes an emblem of himself: he implies a symbolic splitting or dividing of the individual—seen positively, a doubling or multiplication of the individual. This complex duality permeates Boetti’s work, his investigation of the nature of dialectic, or of the dialectic of nature. He seeks a comprehensive synthesis in which opposites do not cancel each other out but coexist to become new. The work’s point of departure is a system or structure, an ordering principle which is then overlaid with a disorder from which the image emerges. The rules of the game are strict but ever changing; within a fluctuating mental and visual framework, order strives toward articulation of an image, but disorder also seeks its own essential structure. In Boetti’s embroidery works, the two principles are literally interwoven.

Embroidery as a medium directly incorporates a complex layering in the picture; the tangled interplay of background and foreground figures in Boetti’s new works on paper parallels this earlier interweaving network. In that the figures are perceived now as positive, now as negative forms, the image is repeatedly disrupted. The eye stumbles, as it were, and is thrown back on itself for stability. In Les douze piscines (The 12 pools, 1984), frog shapes are interwoven crisscross to form a complex visual structure, while the associations with natural history insinuated by the frog bring out an impression of systematization. But this severity is immediately contradicted and veiled by the delicate coloring—washed-out tones of pink, green, and red. The surface becomes a sensual event, eluding direct interpretation. Boetti places 12 small human figures on this ambiguous background, flying silhouettes which careen about the picture according to chance, or, one might also say, according to their whim and fancy. These are divers frozen somewhere between board and water, the continuity of their movements opposing itself to the moment, the motionless instant of the picture. Background and foreground can be read as separate levels, but they are always formulations of a single principle, the desire to marry systematic exactitude with its dissolution.

The works have a fragile, transparent quality, which is carried through in Boetti’s materials and techniques: the thin sheets of paper he uses seem to have been worked while very wet, and later applied to canvas. It is as though a breath of air had been captured, a poetic vision rescued and fixed. And, indeed, the poetry of a summer’s day provides the “content” of two panels with the title Oggi e il primo giorno del mese d’agosto (Today is the first day of the month of August, 1984). Here too Boetti uses delicate colors to create an atmosphere of things dissolving. The title evokes the flickering light of a summer landscape, which then unites with the larger underlying framework of natural history—elephants, horses, geese, monkeys, cranes—to create a whole that can be read on many levels. Amid all this, handwritten notes at first suggest a legible text, but on examination disintegrate into a calligraphy that, like the picture itself, conjures up an ineffable moment—for instance, that brief caesura before the rain starts to fall.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.