Michel François

Michel François’ recent show “Mest, Brandnetels en Paardebloemen” (Manure, nettles, and dandelions) was divided into two groups: an installation consisting mostly of videos and films; and documentary material from his various collaborations with nonartists. In the first section François installed a pale green carpet with circular perforations at its edges, and onto the wall beyond the carpet he projected a video in which the camera’s movement follows his feet traveling in an endless circle on a green lawn that eventually turns brown. The remaining videotapes and films were displayed on various monitors throughout part of the space.

François has been involved with collaborative projects for some time; recently, he has been working with inmates in a Rotterdam prison for the criminally insane. As part of this project, he installed a display case in the clinic in which the patients can exhibit objects; this is intended to serve as an ongoing portrait of the inmate community. This experiment involving the relationship between the individual and the community yields a visual odyssey embracing the relationship between freedom and work, and pleasure and captivity. Far more than a collection of photographs, videos, and objects, the installation shown here suggested only a provisional and transitional stage in what for the patients is a much longer process.

A diary of this project appeared on a wall-size bulletin board, comprising an invitation, objects, and written notices (e.g., “Nothing is more clear than a closed door or dandelions”). The ground plan of a cell had also been painted on the floor of the exhibition space. This evoked a powerful sense of claustrophobia that was heightened by objects appearing in vitrines—for example, a black balloon inscribed with the word “Perdu” (Lost). In another case postcards were piled alongside aerial photographs of the complex. Several of the cards were perforated, and on the hack they read “Where I am.” Yet another vitrine contained computer printouts in which the floor plan of the prison was transformed first into a widening spiral, then a raging whirlpool. In the same room hung a huge placard reading “Pas tomber!” (Don’t fall!), echoing the detention center’s strict regulations.

The exhibition also contained a number of dandelions and stinging nettles. These served as symbolic reminders of rehabilitation and transformation: weeds can be carefully tended plants; refuse and waste products can he recycled into compost; and dandelions metamorphose from yellow flowers to white puffs, becoming symbols of flight and freedom. Other objects in this show, like a pay phone beside a pile of useless change, plastic bags filled with colored tablets or ammunition, and a papier-maché punching bag, summoned associations not only with freedom, responsibility, and individual and social consciousness, but also with confinement and desolation.

Frank-Alexander Hettig

Translated from the German by Diana Reese.