Chérif and Silvie Defraoui

Galería Metrónom

Swiss artists Chérif and Silvie Defraoui, well-known in central Europe for both their artistic and pedagogical work, have long exerted a strong influence on the more radical intellectual circles of Barcelona. Their creative vigor is based on a tendency toward heterodoxy and irony, as well as an eclectic approach free from doctrinaire stylistic restraints. The exhibition/installation here, entitled La Querelle des images (Quarrel of images, 1986)—originally mounted last year in Toulouse—focused on a celebration of the image, reconsidered and redefined.

Combining a rigorous but playful geometry with cartoonlike images, these mixed-media wall-paintings/assemblages explore the relationships between object and image, symmetry and imbalance, presence and absence. The Defraouis set up a counterpoint among the works and within each work, through the juxtaposition and superimposition of different kinds of shapes and images. In installing the works here they also utilized the configuration of the gallery, with its walls articulated by pilasters into a series of long rectangular panels, by centering each work within the “frame” established by each panel. In addition. the rectangular arches formed by an arcade of columns acted as a set of outer “frames.”

Several of the works consist only of a gray rectangle, almost 8 feet high and as much as 19 feet long, with a small black square in each corner, painted in acrylic directly on the wall. In other works, this black-cornered gray rectangle serves as the background for a representational scene painted on canvas and framed in wood, all of trapezoidal shape (with one diagonal side), about 5 feet high, and mounted off-center within the gray rectangle. These resemble scenes from adventure comics that have been altered with surrealistic touches (a bather floating in the air, a pair of elephants on platforms among a group of dinosaurs) and punctuated by geometric interventions (a cubistic grid, random circles). The Defraouis contrast these inscrutable, asymmetrically placed scenes with the purely intellectual play of the symmetrical black squares (and then set up a further contrast between the invariable corner squares and the various checkered patterns).

The gallery space acted as a perceptual envelope, in which a rich nexus of relationships was established through the architecture itself, a clever use of scale, and the development of thematic similarities and oppositions. By using this combination of strategies, the Defraouis confront us with two ways of knowledge—through “rational” mathematical order, and through “irrational,” evocative pictorial forms. By juxtaposing and integrating these approaches, they try to give new life to our familiar world of images, to propose a new way of perceiving and feeling. They encourage us to use different ways of interpreting objects and phenomena in each new encounter, without any permanent referential structures—in effect, to rely on poetic memory.

Gloria Moure

Translated from the Spanish by Hanna Hannah.