Michel François at kamel mennour, Paris

Chris Sharp

January 31, 2011
kamel mennour, Paris
January 7–February 5, 2011

Upon first glance, an erotic reading of Michel François’s work might at seem a bit unorthodox, but with all the tension, indexes of expenditure, and sheer materiality coursing through his first solo show in Paris, such a reading is, at least in part, inevitable. For while the Belgian Brussels-based artist is primarily known for his preoccupations with contamination, physics (gravity and magnetism) and teleological processes as incarnated in plastic forms, the body, it seems, is never far from what he does. Its presence is sensually lurking, both literally and metaphorically, but never without a touch of absurdity among the thirteen works on view here.

Some of the most literal examples of this would include Contamination, (2006) and Instant Gratification, (2010). The first is comprised of three pairs of wooden apples, which have been partially carbonized, collocated together, dragged across a broad expanse of wall at different heights, and then nailed there—their traces blackly blazing behind them like testimonies to the shared sin of carnal communion and consequent exhaustion. Resembling a round silver splotch, the ironically titled Instant Gratification is the byproduct of incrementally poured aluminum, whose resultant integer is then hung on the wall. The melted metal is as suggestive of fluids as the piece is evocative of “action painting,” which assumes a decidedly onanistic quality here. In such an interpretative context Solitaire, (2010), a 12-inch high stack of papers with a cigarette-sized hole burned through the center of all of them—becomes oddly lucent with the bored and unhappy sublimation of solitude. Meanwhile, Crash, (2010), a personal favorite, was made up of a stack of outsized take-away posters, featuring a rather graphic close-up image of a car accident—the gnarled hood of one car having obscenely exploded the rear end of another, like some kind of improbable (literary) erotic grotesque.

If the two centerpieces of the exhibition, Pièce détachée, (2010) and Pavillon Interface II, (2010), are not exactly erotic, they nevertheless evoke a rich and ambiguous tension, instinctually seductive and repulsive. The former consists of an eight foot, open cube armature whose innards are like an asymmetrical web. Remove one element (a bar, a magnet) and the whole web collapses. Where this piece hazardously tempts, its similarly-sized counterpart voluptuously taunts. Walled in by glass, this cube is impenetrable; in its center is a large rectangular block of multi-colored plasticine, molded together willy-nilly to form a solid, albeit opaquely gelatinous mass. Sheets of plasticine have been cut from the mass, like slices of cheese, and centrally stuck on the interior face of each side of the cube in matching pairs. Implicit in this work is the potential to be completed: one wants to get inside of it, and, with the help of, say, a giant cheese cutter, finish the job. That is, this dense gelatinous material shut into its center elicits a weird, unexpected, and almost perplexing desire.

Of course, such an “erotics of interpretation” accounts for but one aspect François’s practice. But what is particularly compelling about this aspect is how it allegorizes itself, and, by extension, the act of creation, the very act of introducing objects into the world by linking that act to a primeval, human necessity. In a time when the art object is more fraught, more endangered than ever, such reflections could be a seen as fertile ground for debating what to many already seems like a foregone conclusion.

Sexuality & Eroticism, Sculpture

Chris Sharp is a writer and curator who lives between Mexico City and Los Angeles. He is the cofounder of Lulu, Mexico City, LA MAISON DE RENDEZ-VOUS, Brussels, and Feuilleton, Los Angeles.

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January 31, 2011

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