Michel François

Stretching from one end of the gallery to another is a series of objects. They include a gourdlike shape, covered in wax, with a figure of Saint Gregory emerging from the top; sponges; a tightly wound role of paper interspersed with black wax filling; a black hat, a balloon covered in white wax, a bicycle chain wrapped around a red form resembling the African continent, etc. Entitled Instruments de la passion (Instruments of passion, all works 1990), this collection of individual works, in which function, volume, and shape are turned inside out, reveals the sculptural strategies of Michel François.

François’ work is a combination of found objects and meticulously constructed variations. Individual pieces may reappear in more than one work. These objects seem like fetishes, and the title given an earlier installation, Some things to be buried with, seems to point in this direction. The connotative value of these objects has far outstripped their denotative sense. Opposite Instruments de la passion is a photograph of a man’s face, eyes closed, suspended above a roughly fashioned plaster pedestal that is circumscribed by a belt. Bringing these disparate elements together, François’ work succeeds in being mysterious and engaging without being coy.

In an essay written by the artist for the catalogue, we hear of the Japanese emperor Mikkaddo [sic], who ordered the members of his administration to organize a grand inventory. Whether apocryphal or not, the story seems relevant to the artist’s own procedure: to make us conscious of the endless properties of forms and objects that comprise our world.

Expiration dans le plâtre (Breath in plaster) provides another example of François’ concern with volume as a relative concept. A plaster shell was constructed around an inflated black balloon. Eventually, of course, the balloon loses its air. The work, as exhibited, has shrunk to a small object, barely inflated, surrounded by the empty plaster space. The shifting perceptions of space are accompanied here by a physical metamorphosis.

Two graphic works further illustrate François’ balancing of perceptual effects. In Dessin noir (Black drawing) we find the ovallike form, seen in many of the individual objects. Here, it is formed of a series of curved, gestural lines that radiate from a center point. Spilling over at the edges, almost out of the frame, the piece resembles a fingerprint as much as it does an abstract form. Both readings seem equally appropriate in the context of the other works on display. Similarly, in Léone, a plaster, egg-like form extends from the wall. From its center point, a series of red and black lines extends halfway down the object. The shape can thus be read as either a head, seen from above, or an eye. But it must also be seen as an emerging, voluminous figure, which challenges any attempt to circumscribe it. In François’ inventory, this is the crucial, and paradoxical, point: the objects we attempt to categorize are never exactly what they seem.

Michael Tarantino