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It is neither laziness nor lack of imagination that accounts for François Daireaux’s refusal to title his works, but rather his feeling that naming them would immobilize their existence, that it would block the initial movement and energy that keep the formal concerns from getting lost in the definition of the subject. So there is no title, just the year. The year that marks the beginning of a process within which the piece on view constitutes only one state, one station, and not necessarily the last. A work by Daireaux can only be grasped in the here and now. Tomorrow means another space, a new arrangement; tomorrow, the slow alteration of certain materials; tomorrow, the ever-impending catastrophe.

After his studies at the School of Decorative Arts in Paris, Daireaux spent five years in Morocco, where he had his first exhibitions and first developed a way of doing things that is still largely his own. His molds were obtained from stockings or tights that he cut up and at the time sewed back together entirely by hand. These sheaths were then filled with plaster that he introduced through a funneling ring. The accumulated weight of the plaster produced forms that oscillated between decision and chance at the same time as free-standing sculptures. Once the stocking was removed, there was a patient effort of polishing, and then the pieces were assembled at random with a ring clamp. What stands out in these early creations is the use of the stocking, not yet as matter in and of itself but as a material generating shapes, shapes that reveal the legacy of formalism and the lesson of Henry Moore, but also the very personal path that the young artist was soon to follow.

The initial function of stocking or tights, it should be recalled (apart from exceptions such as bank-robber’s masks), is to envelop the leg and assume its shape, or even enhance it. The degree of expansion, in spite of the remarkable elasticity of the material, ultimately reaches its limit. This limit is also that of Daireaux’s sculptures, a measurement that thus comes to him from the body and its contours, at least with regard to the maximum circumference. Indeed, two or more stockings may be joined together in order to produce more elongated forms. The smaller ones, meanwhile, are innumerable, practically inexhaustible. Most of the fragments in plaster or silicone come from stocking molds that have been patiently sewn (sewing as draftsmanship) by the artist. Patience and length of time. In an artistic context where fabrication, when it exists, is most often entrusted to industrial engineering, Daireaux’s attitude seems marginal to stay the least. As if in his case, what is usually called the time span of a work were concentrated not in the aftermath of its durability but rather in the anticipation of its slow emergence. This use of the stocking, in addition to instituting a method, also-and probably even more so- sets out a theme, or better, a world, which is that of the female costume, the various second skins that cover women’s bodies to solicit both eye and desire- lipstick, nail polish, and even hair. All of these elements are variously combined according to the pieces and the way they are presented.

One of the recent works consists of an accumulation of little sheaths in different sizes, fabricated in plaster according to the method described above. The wide ends were slightly hollowed out and filled with lipstick, which has yielded a cracked surface. Each unit seems to have been made as if it were a whole, unique work, and this ensemble, patiently built up one piece on top of the other, arranged solely according to the logic of their equilibrium, is aligned so as to rise from the floor in what appears to be nothing other than the shape of a lip. This is the extreme limit of the figurative temptation, the point that marks the affirmation of both the allusive image of the body and the economy constituted by the approach-avoidance tension between form and color. Another assemblage is composed of three pairs of laquered plaster needles that are not reinforced and thus very vulnerable. These elongated white form (once again fabricated in stockings) are so fragile that Daireaux has sometimes chosen to anticipate their breakage by neatly snapping them off prior to transport. He has then glued them back together, grafted them, with visible scars providing slight traces of life’s dangers. On the floor, like a vast expanse of water tinted in shades of red, are an infinite number of nail-polish-coated drops of glue propped up on sewing needles and grouped together to form visual pools. Rejecting any artificial limit between the work and the viewer, he has imagined this system of self-protection that, in the very logic of the work, prohibits the visitor from gaining access to the white forms.
The use of such chromatism, which pulls the sculpture toward pictorial effects, is even more radical in a piece composed of twenty-four assemblages of the ultra-thin glass slides used for microscopic observations in chemistry or biology. The tiny strips are individually coated with nail polish that keeps them glued together edge to edge. The twenty-four plates, surrounded by a margin, overlap ever so slightly (in proportion to the intervals) to compose a vast rectangle posed directly on the floor. Each of the twenty-four units corresponds to a shade of nail polish from Guerlain, the prestigious company that provided all the samples. The color are juxtaposed at random. The result might be described as a systematic, geometric kind of painting, were it not for slight excesses of color. Or a Carl Andre sculpture that went wrong, were it not for the extreme fragility of the materials.
Daireaux has also used nail polish to coat pebbles gathered on the beach at Etretat, not far from the famous needle cliff (there is a lot of landscape Daireaux’s work-not landscapes, but landscape). The first of these pebbles was given to him by a woman. He subsequently collected over four-hundred of them, all methodically covered with nail polish in multiple shades. Here he has laid them out in a very elongated rectangle that mischievously recalls the lines of Richard Long. Elsewhere he has spread theme over an unlikely carpet of hair in the form of a heart. The hair, which also responds to the pictorial concern for a variety of tones, was solicited from different beauty parlors. The request consisted of obtaining from the clients not only the fruit of their haircuts but also their names and addresses. Thus, three hundred women will be invited to the opening, and the puzzle might even be reconstituted. Obviously, these last two example touch on the limits of kitsch in a body of work that never lays claim to bad taste but nonetheless declares itself ready to assume the responsibility if this turns out to be necessary to the development of its argument.

Among Daireaux’s most imposing creations are three works based on identical elements-cylinders of about 10 centimeters in diameter, composed of novelty stockings in garish colors stuffed with polyurethane foam. Protruding from each of the tips is a thick wire of reinforced silicone that serves to suspend the work on one end and forms a corresponding appendage of approximately the same length on the other. Nevertheless, each unit differs from the others in both its total length and its color. The armature allows the barbs on the bottom to be directed toward or away from the viewer, thus determining the degree of aggressiveness. Daireaux brings together several of these units in groups that he suspends directly from the wall or on a perpendicular rod. Sometimes he places an equivalent group on the floor, providing the visitor with a passage between the vertical ant the horizontal. The wildly varied hues of the stockings produces a strange chromatic effect that goes beyond the science of colors in the joyous violence of uncertainty. But the artist may also choose to mute the hues by sliding one more thicknesses of flesh-colored stockings over the cylinders.
This form can be found in other units fabricated by the artist through a process that is simple and ingenious at once and which owes a great deal to artisanal techniques learned in the course of his different studies. In a block of plasterboard, he bores holes with a drill; in the center of each of these cylindrical holes is a second hole made by the tip of the bit and considerably extended with gouache-colored latex in shades of blues, reds, pinks, and so on. The outside part of the resulting forms, which is in contact with the plaster, takes on a flat appearance, while the inside preserves all of its flashiness. These strange tubes are then to be assembled according to various procedures, going from one state to another in the course of successive experiments until the day when a final decision has to be made for the exhibit. Sometimes the units are joined together with wire, sometimes simply piled up. It is this effect of weighty abandon that is the most remarkable, even if the use of the threads also produces striking effects of interior design trimmings.

But above all, what reveals, asserts and then imposes itself, beyond the forms decided upon, beyond the very experience of the viewer, is the slow determination of the eruptions, the progressive accumulation of the materials that are injected, recuperated, and reinjected. An overall process of germination if we approach it in terms of an organic metaphor, or a veritable manufacture, a production process from equally viable viewpoint of economics. Whether that evokes cosmetics, troubling silhouettes, or nothing other than relations of space and color, we are constantly brought back to the feeling of a proliferation that expands to excess, that is self-generating, drawing on previous works for the forms and materials of works to come, works as accumulations of elements ant then as accumulations of works. At the outset there would seem to be only a few prototypes, very few-three or four- then an infinite repetition until the moment when, as if they were violently cut to the quick, the proliferating excesses abruptly took hold of themselves, like the hedgehog that curls up in a ball. Whether the pieces are spread out or compressed, they appear, I, the fleeting experience of the viewer, as if they were suspended, like a factory on strike that would watch itself in its fascinating totally, a vision of things before the fact and what has been promised for the future and simply anticipated.

Daireaux’s works are not just the sum of their parts, or the themes that inevitably emerge from them. And the artist is perfectly conscious of the context in which he is working. He is unaware of neither Fabrice Hybert’s square meter of lipsticks, nor Marie-Ange Guilleminot’s gestures, nor the luxury goods that are Sylvie Fleury’s stock and trade, nor Ghada Amer’s painstaking embroidery, nor the innumerable approaches to the body that have punctuated the last decade of this closing century with uneven productions. We also sense how much he has been attentive to the dazzling tension of bodily allusions in the work of Eva Hesse and, closer to him, Bernard Lallemand. But if Daireaux’s work stands out so brilliantly in such a charged environment, it seems to me that there are two main reasons. First of all, while too many young artists just out of school rush to attack the world of art, the institutions and spaces likely to exhibit them, Daireaux chose to withdraw for five years in a country that he knew was isolated but which was to nourish him very substantially. He was to maintain this faculty of isolation-which explains part of the singularity of this work-with great mastery during the three years when he produced most of what is seen today. Which is to say? At time when the majority of artists, and some of the most remarkable ones, work in the thick of the real, with the signs, attitudes, and objects of the everyday, Daireaux attempts to produce everything himself, and what he produces with this patience that is so anachronistic are neither photographs nor mimetic replicas but discreetly original forms. Formalism? Certainly not. These forms are never abandoned to their total autonomy but, on the contrary, they constantly intersect a specific albeit open set of themes-that of desire and its fetishes, that of gender-but without ever serving as illustration. Better yet, most of these forms are obtained precisely by means of the emblems of the thematic they espouse. This very tight interweaving of the questions raised and the means used to visualize them obviously recalls certain principles of Modernism, but here too Daireaux’s work cannot really be assimilated to them. Indeed, the permanent tension between form and figure, between evocation and sensory experience, is now dynamized by a singular freedom in relation to the decorative, a freedom that the Moroccan stay, once again, greatly encouraged. Daireaux often says that his work is balancing act. Without a doubt: that of the tightrope walker whose voluntary risk-taking is only bearable because of the very impatient slowness with which he moves forward.

Jean-Marc Huitorel (January, 1998) Translated by Miriam Rosen