The recent exhibition of paintings at Solo Galerie in Paris was an opportunity for accurate comprehension of the complex blend of materiality and intellect found in work by the artist-architect duo Mauricio Pezo and Sofia von Ellrichshausen. The show’s title “Exteriors” was a reference to the subject matter of the paintings, which are an intimate reflection on space. The title stood in opposite continuity to the couple’s preceding work, “Interiors”, featured in the book Spatial Structure (published by Arkitektur B, Copenhagen 2015).
The route opened with a wall grid of small drawings made by Pezo and von Ellrichshausen during their residency at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Chromatic variations constitute the medium constructing their compositional story. It is difficult to describe the visual experience that the combination of these obsessive differences generated for the spectator. What remained impressed is the extreme attention for the use of light, or better the projection of shadows inside spaces in which details are mingled together, creating a feeling of apprehension. In the pictures, enigmatic figures prevent the identification of the represented object, which might be a pillar or the leg of a table. Each composition borders on abstraction by means of a strict approach to the construction of the composition.
The thread of these compositions was taken up by a rug on the floor, giving continuity to the transition to the other spaces of the gallery. This object raised several almost banal questions in the visitor. Is this a way to construct a metaphor with the interior? Or is it a way to underline the architects’ interest for an artisanal construction process?
In the other rooms of the gallery, the visitor was regaled with a number of large-format oil paintings (180 x 240 centimetres) executed by Pezo and von Ellrichshausen at their atelier in Concepción, Chile. Painting with oils is a slow, rather unforgiving procedure. By choosing this medium, the couple evokes the need for a contemplative practice that allows them to layer a handful of signs that are sometimes elementary. The pictorial act leads them to discover common synergy in their work, a collective process in which participation is superposed like the layers of colour until the finished object is obtained.
After having admired the artwork on display, it is not easy to construct a parallel with the Solo House built by the artist-architects four years ago for the ambitious project organised by Christian Bourdais, the director of Solo Galerie. (Bourdais commissioned eight architects to build a collection of vacation villas, called Solo Houses, in Spain.) The key to the conceptual complexity of the Chilean duo’s work lies exactly in this dichotomy of activities cohabiting in their approach without ever fusing. The practice of drawing to study shape and composition allows them to forge evanescent links with the rigour of the construction of space. This exhibition emphasised and made explicit how drawing represents a moment of needed conceptual introspection for the two. To describe their approach to compositional practice, they have repeatedly used the metaphor of an oven for bricks, a humble device that produces even humbler objects.
This image, shown several times during conferences they have held, seems to be a direct reference to the pavilion built in the garden of the Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne in Vitry-sur-Seine, in the southern periphery of Paris. The pavilion was the result of collaboration between Pezo von Ellrichshausen and the French sculptor Christian Boltanski. The synergy created by this alliance generated a totalised experience of space, where a video shot by Boltanski in the Atacama Desert in Chile entered into an exchange with the architectural surroundings.
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