Silvie Defraoui, La Diva del Pueblo Nuevo, 2009, color photograph, 12 1/2 x 15 1/2".

Silvie Defraoui, La Diva del Pueblo Nuevo, 2009, color photograph, 12 1/2 x 15 1/2".

Silvie Defraoui

Galerie Susanna Kulli

Silvie Defraoui, La Diva del Pueblo Nuevo, 2009, color photograph, 12 1/2 x 15 1/2".

Like miniatures, square tiles leaned singly or in pairs in rows on narrow wall-mounted shelves made of dark wood in the first of two back-to-back shows by Silvie Defraoui. Formerly adorning elegant homes in the countryside near Barcelona, they had been transformed into complex pictorial objects. These found cement tiles were not presented as ready- mades; a closer glance revealed that the multicolored, slightly irregular geometries of their surfaces were made with black adhesive tape applied in lines, points, squares, and triangles. The purely architectural ornament had become an “image in the ground,” as the title of that series, “Das Bild im Boden,” 1985–2010, would have it. Once one had noticed this, something started to shift in the viewer’s imagination: In a profoundly analogue twist, the pixel-like pattern of tiles could be seen to be interspersed with figurative motifs recalling the schematic faces from early computer games or pre-Columbian temples. In these works, fragments unexpectedly join together to form a whole: a simplified countenance made of tiny dots suddenly looking at us. And then the figure dissolves back into an abstract geometry that ties in with other patterns. The variety of ornamentation seen in these tiles is surprisingly rich, but so too is the multiplicity of Defraoui’s tiny interventions.

For the second of the two shows, Defraoui presented a series from 2009, “Les formes du récit II” (The Forms of Narrative II). All down the long wall, even extending into the office area, hung groups of photographs sharing a similar format: Each shows an object fixed to the wall with the projection of a photographed landscape or an ornamental structure superimposed on it. This configuration was photographed from the side at an acute angle so that the second image, the one we finally see, is slightly foreshortened. The most basic everyday objects—a suitcase, a paint roller, a paper bag, a pair of scissors, a fan—are superimposed with landscapes or patterns that, while familiar enough, are at a spatial or temporal remove. For example, a fan bearing the image of a blond woman—perhaps the 2009 work’s title La Diva del Pueblo Nuevo refers to her—winds up looking like a billboard on the street or a fragment salvaged from the interior of the crumbing façade (soon to be torn down, perhaps) of a once-elegant building somewhere in the south. In any case, neither the object nor the projected image remains identical to itself in this encounter.

The differences between the objects in Defrauoi’s work give rise to a difference in the images themselves: What we see is a photographic memory of the moment when an object and a projection overlapped in another space. In the works shown in the gallery, the slightly foreshortened projection merely suggests the illusion of depth with its scenery of object and image, like something splintered off or unfolded from the current space of our perceptions. We remain immersed in this play of our imaginative faculties, pursuing memories that trace out a fleeting constellation. “Things are different from what they are not,” Defraoui insists: She has used this motto to describe her process for four decades. Indeed, her most recent pieces recall the early display cases she developed with her husband, Chérif Defraoui, for La Route des Indes (The Road to the Indies), 1978, assembling objects and photographs like relics from Columbus’s journey to “India.” Being constantly en route without ever arriving might serve as a metaphor for Defraoui’s journey between cultures and the codified territories of art.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.