Françoise Quardon

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes

With its constellations of tentacled playpens, prophylactic umbrellas, sacred-heart menorahs, and levitating bathtubs suspended under the dome of a 19th-century chapel-turned-gallery, Françoise Quardon’s Take me to the river (all works 1993) does not simply mirror our fin-demillenium, but ultimately lures us into taking a hard look at our own reflections.

Like her earlier works, the seven pieces that make up Take me to the river are assembled from found objects, but with this installation Quardon has begun to combine her collectibles with forms that she herself fabricates out of fiberglass, resin, and chicken wire. The result is a latter-day Alice in Wonderland that has lost none of its wonder and all of its innocence. At the edge of the choir, a pair of translucent phantoms dubbed Ghost and (his) Brother hover in the semidarkness like supernatural gatekeepers. Ghost broadcasts a maddeningly unintelligible Guns N’Roses clip from under its shimmery pink surface, which, upon closer inspection, turns out to be decorated with crab shells and rat poison. The silent partner, Brother, reserves a no less sober surprise for visitors: the aluminum food mills that playfully dot its exterior are lined with graphic color transparencies of dental operations. In the choir, Hell’s flowers, a giant blue apparition of fiberglass and neon is similarly embedded with soft-core photos of Asiatic women taken from the bottom of sake glasses. In the crossing, meanwhile, a group of floating umbrellas, collectively titled November rain, extend their “protection” to the fiberglass body parts that have been grafted onto their handles.

The remaining three pieces, suspended in the transepts, practically defy description. The title work, Take me to the river, is an oversized pink jellyfish (in French, méduse, like the monster) made out of a playpen, chicken wire covered with tulle and seashells, and dangling tentacles neatly shod in baby booties. Toucher le soleil (To touch the sun) is a fiberglass cactus in the form of a seven-branched candlestick, tipped with flaming orange hearts and rendered wittily ecumenical with a Muslim star and crescent. And finally, the miraculous bathtub L’eau de tes yeux, le miel de ta bouche (The water from your eyes, the honey from your mouth), hung from the ceiling like a swing, drains its poetic liquid through a giant horn of plenty that reaches down to the floor in a blaze of (electric) light.

The key, such as it is, to this twilight zone of dreams and nightmares is perhaps to be found in Quardon’s artist’s book/catalogue. Black and white photographs of the works are accompanied by visual commentaries: a series of engravings of romantic couples, for example, to “preface” the general installation view, or cabalistic diagrams of menorahs facing the cactus-version of Toucher le soleil. But more importantly, the pages of this little book have not been cut apart on the sides, and in the layering of images that this allows many of the visual glosses are never quite readable. The fantasies and fears hanging over us in the chapel are literally just beyond our grasp. And it is precisely by underscoring their absence that Quardon attunes us to their presence.

Miriam Rosen