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Catching hold of suspension

“For so long I kept within my body the memory of springtime’s catastrophe.”
S.K. (Notebooks)

The position of the tightrope walker

To enter into François Daireaux’s project is to accept being in the position of the tightrope walker: with the steadiest stability, it involves plotting an overhead path between two programmatic works.
Beginning with the origins of the work, an initial proposal (Sans titre, 1996) asserts itself as a horizon. This piece accomplishes itself in two phases. Long linear, hand-sewn pockets of nylon are first hung in the void of the artist studio, streaking the space like waves. With infinite care, the cloth tubes are filled with plaster. Once the material sets, the lines become mass; the mass marks its fragility; and the fragility becomes tactile. This pale line in the void accentuates the space just as the drawing of make-up accentuates an eye. It draws more attention to what escapes the gaze than what it disguises through covering what would be to show. However, such a line is so fragile that the slightest movement breaks it. As soon as it is taken down, like an angel deprived of wings, the proposal grapples with its own gravity, no matter how minimal it may be. To choose to cut the line from the sky, to separate it from the ceiling is to accept breaking it. François Daireaux takes the curves and arabesques of these fine white laces, true relics of an improbable lightening of the mass and places them on the floor of his studio.
How does one address such a suspension of gravity to the world? How does one make the grace of such a gesture visible beyond the studio? The intervention will need to be taken to a public exhibition site, and in doing so, break it even more. And what’s more, such a proposal placed in a public space open to peregrination would function as a shared anxiety: how can one be sure to never step on this pale, friable line? What delicate gesture could have governed its making? How could it have been carried here? It is as though the proposal is endowed with an inner contradiction, one held between static fragility and the hypothesis of forbidden mobility. A tension that will not cease to tie the material subtlety of François Daireaux’s works to an initial requirement, the test of roaming the world over.
In this manner, this initial proposal has not yet successfully completed François Daireaux’s principal method of research. Yes, if it is already allowed to recognize the beginning of the gesture of filling, soon recurrent in the artist’s upcoming sculptural proposals, the piece leads to the initial difficulty, that is, without going beyond it. It still does not allow movement and resists crossing borders. In fact, the appeal of its languid elegance lacks a final stage that would make it possible for the transgressive dynamics of the work to get under way.
In order to accomplish the initial step so that the work’s adventure opens itself to the horizon of nomadism and its dangers, it is necessary to put this first piece to the test of breaking. What was done two years later: Ce que je cherche à faire (1998) is nothing other than the smashing to pieces of these laces of white plaster and their methodical placement in a wooden suitcase. From now on, the work of this nomadic artist will have to learn to travel light.
At the other end of the spectrum, in 2006, Panorama and Alternipenne are two videos that redefine the method of research, many years down the road.
It has already been a while since François Daireaux has worked with traveling as creative energy. His senses on the watch, facing the world’s test, he exposes himself to the unforeseeable, in quest of a manifestation of suspension, of an epiphany of the fragility of the real. This “obligation of uncertainty” constructs a dynamic with which, with his passing wanderings, he comes to recognize clues that point to what remains almost unassignable in a shape. On the watch for the “in suspension sensor”, this posture authorizes the artist to intercept the solitude of two unknown persons. In Algeria, the first stands in the hills of the Constantine fault and invectives the corridors of a world that he alone can hear. Without the chasm ever being shown, an improbable choreography suggests a dictionary of anger, translator of an elusive, mutistic world. A second character oscillates in that place, telling the startling story of an untranslatable catastrophe. Here, Daireaux chooses to make a double editing that strives to avert the threat of isolation through the exhibition of fire. Indeed, in a double leap from the inside and from the outside, Alternipenne (2006) presents the alternation of this voice lost within the inaudible and the monstrous blasts of a torchier. The editing leads one to think that a test of the extreme, innermost incandescence irradiates the bond to the community, with which the character still seeks to forge through words. Between the flame that saturates the picture and the words erased by isolation, there are the comings and goings between the private and the public, the singular and the collective that are now broken. Panorama and Alternipenne signs a preoccupation with politics that the work had kept silent until now. With leaving the studio and opening up to departure, François Daireaux’s work is, from here onwards, concerned with the weaknesses of the human community.
Therefore, to grasp the trajectory of his work is to explore what unfurls between the two poles of work, from the installation in the studio to a theatre of textures of the world – fragile sensualities transgressing always a bit further – right up to the leap towards the otherness of the outside. How is the resonance created between a work focused on shapes of fragility and an art of traveling along the traces of manifestations of suspension?

Frills, flaunting

In line with the initial gesture of arranging the hair-like plaster pieces in a suitcase, François Daireaux’s investigations begin by exploring some strategies for flaunting, covering up, and make-up. The “first way” searches at the borderline of attraction and invasion, attraction and disgust. The delicacy of the polish, the fragility of the plaster thorns whose erection seeks equilibrium, the container for fluid matter with porous membranes, everything here tells of the secret battle that ties the need for contact to the boundary of skin. An entire dynamics of intrusion, transfer, invasion, release, and the visceral, that only the decorating of surfaces makes perceptible to the eye. A theatre of textures thus invents itself, which superficially hints at the invisible war being fought below appearances.
Yet, perhaps it is that the first departure is the one that we advance in order to catch up with the flesh of the other, to reach for it until embracing it, till wanting to cross it like a border, pierce it so as to appropriate it. From the leap of desire to that of wandering, the distinction is only topographical. It is always about nearing an unknown and unpredictable territory, flesh or faraway land. The excitement induced from this movement of conquest forces the traveler to invent gestures of conciliation and negotiation. The leap of attraction that moves the departure forward towards the other feeds as much on charm frills as flaunting against deceptions. It is as with make-up that beckons as much as it protects.

Boring-filling, inside-outside, surface and hole

This leap towards otherness, this movement in direction of the unknown dermis, structures François Daireaux’s investigations around an initial gesture that he always repeats. It involves boring the material, digging into it, penetrating it, so to better provide for the invasion of a substance that saturates the voids. It is as though it were question of constructing body movements of substances, which refer to games of contagion, interpenetration, transfer of fluids and mixing of the surfaces. For the moment, the container is variable and uncertain: plaster, resins, many-colored stockings. Yet already, a curious reversing of boring into molding begins to thwart the destructive violence of the initial action, by transforming it into a game of traces, thus of memory. For example, women’s stockings are cut, sewn, transformed into small, oblong containers in all sizes and shapes. True micro-memories of lost bodies, fragments wrapped with infra-thin membranes that hesitate between skin and clothing, so many shapes that will soon be used as the medium for molding. From this reversal of negative into positive is born a variable, white shape, hollowed out, then filled up with lipstick. Here, we find a mind sensitive to applied arts, which characterizes a number of contemporary investigations, such as those of M.-A. Guilleminot. In both cases, the question of the form joins together with that of the transmission through use, by the transfer of the sensitive. Combined with many years spent in Morocco, François Daireaux’s original training at applied arts school provided for the articulation that he establishes between the surface and the content, the décor and the structure. In reversing the contents and the container, he stages a surface that speaks for the content. The porous coverings become borders to transgress. It is the same for these fragments with organic shapes, sometimes erectile, sometimes languid, sometimes suspended, but always hesitant between germinal and sexual evocations, which do not cease to repeat the caesura and the border to cross. This insistence on the ambiguities of molding doesn’t go without recalling Marcel Duchamp’s thoughts on the “fourth dimension” that would occur between the mold and the imprint. Free of the limits of the second dimension and the constraints of the third, this fourth dimension with the “infra-thin” would be precisely that which the shapes are only able to suggest, without ever demonstrating it. In short, it draws attention to more that it shows. A work(Sans titre, 1999) in particular makes light of frills so to disturb the points of reference. A multitude of bamboo is fanned out along a wall. Each holds gray goo, chaotically contained by the weft that tightly holds it. Once again and in a contradictory manner, the ambivalence of the proposal stages the make-up material (here, graphite powder from kohl) and the visual aggressiveness of the proposal. The metallic appearance of the units sets up a contradictory encounter between the piping hot and the ice-cold, the viscous and the sharpened, the dark and the shimmering. The true result of a project involving the fusion of incompatible entities, the heterogeneous encounter flaunts with a conclusive radicalism. The feminine and the masculine, the porous and the impenetrable, the hollow and the material, the erectile and the languid, the soft and the stiff, the known and the unknown engage in a battle that confuses the identities, merges the bodies, and seals the borders.

Walking on the territory

With the establishing of this esthetic of the ambivalence, it is a matter of channeling the metamorphic energy of walking. A “new way” emerges from the artist, which seeks to mark the limits of the territory: occupying it by covering it. In this spirit, a first work makes the transition insofar as it combines the vocabulary of a critical cosmetic with that of a promised walk. A collection of many-colored stockings covers the floor and invites the visitor to take off his/her shoes and walk around. Owing to a serial and repetitive effect, the initial gesture of boring-filling now invests the horizon, stretches out and fills, as to better accentuate the surrounding emptiness. The border is no longer the skin of the object, but rather that which draws the line between the occupied land and the abandoned land, between the sacred space and the profane space. The proposal no longer invites one to contemplate a tactile subtlety, however it covers the site with make-up so as to point out the temple. From the studio piece, we’ve moved towards games involving space and architecture. Beginning with oriental stucco right up through to Matisse and Buren, it is the whole decorative issue with art that is reexamined with a project involving spatial make-up capable of constructing a territory. Yet a surprise awaits the visitor: respectfully barefooted, engaged in the initiatory adventure of the walk, the visitor-nomad discovers that the double rolls of stockings are filled with an extremely dense gum that offsets the step. To walk about on the work results in an experience of incertitude and instability, which establishes complicity between the visitor and the artist. With delicacy, the artist highlights both the need for movement and the price one must pay. As in the video À la limite (2007), this approach, which is both attentive and temperate, evokes the state of privacy of believers who take their shoes off before entering onto the sacred floor of a mosque. Instead of being invited to use sight, the visitor of the work finds himself turned into an art believer without his knowledge, summoned for an experience in meditation and “transportation”. In this manner, the Middle East makes the journey back into the adventure of François Daireaux, at the border of a decorative project of covering up and the announcement of departure that puts the artistic project to the test.
We return to the question of the floor with the proposals using floral foam as the basis. Conceived for nourishing plants without roots in the soil, the choice of this green material opens the voyage with a new ambivalent hypothesis. A genuine portable ground or compost, the green foam is also going to be invested with boring-filling-molding, as though it were about inventing a new type of out-of-the-soil root taking. It is in this way that an entire collection of bundles of sticks with diverse sizes appears; they are always placed like rhizomes that stretch out horizontally, setting on shelves or hanging in the air, striving to escape the laws of germinal verticality. Once again, between the root and the suspended, the vertical and the horizontal, François Daireaux goes in search of a logic that dismantles the limits of the laws of nature in order to invent an intermediary dimension of the work that is aerial and unassignable.
It is in this spirit that a video (Saisons, 2006), which is usually displayed at the level of the floor, shows the feet of a street sweeper pushing dead leaves with branches covered with persistent leaves. In the reflection of this variation on the living, for François Daireaux it is always about drawing from the repetitive, methodical, and obsessive energy of his work while going beyond the cycle of birth and death.

From the floor to the wall: always distancing oneself

In the extension of this attention given to territory, François Daireaux proposes the installation, PointInfini, in 2005 at the Centre d’Art Passerelle in Brest, France. It consists of a systematical covering of the floor with colored silicone strings that were squeezed from their tubes. The visitor is invited to trample on this rug of paint. In doing so François Daireaux synthesizes many of his hypotheses at once. Displaying on the floor all the fluid material, with which up until now, he saturated his tubular units, it all occurs as if he reversed his initial gesture of boring-filling. So many containers squeezed, squashed, and flattened, that they refer to the history of painting as the history of covering up and the saturation of a frame. Here, the frame becomes identified with the territory to travel, to trample, all over like the map of a world. The floor becomes skin, netting, network, stratum, entirely stretched by its double vocation of inscription medium and protective envelop. The point of view asserts itself as being aerial, overhanging and without a vanishing point on the cartographer’s horizon. Carried out here is a synthesis between the materials’ gravity and the horizontal dynamics of the declared wandering.
However, the experience continues: how does one relate this combination (of the gravity of the materials and the cartographic overhanging) to the question of frontality of images? How does one provide the gaze with the territory for wandering? We can imagine that both Monet, with the water lilies of Giverny, and Pollock, with the drippings, found themselves confronted with the same question: why make the representation of a lake or the metaphor of a territory traced from one side to the other? Why not remain true to the project of a horizontal representation? It is because the human eye is conditioned by man’s verticality and height, the speed of his step and weight, and by his narrow field of vision. It is this very human-size guideline that pushes François Daireaux to make a second proposal (Everchanging, Fabrica Gallery, Brighton). The silicone serpentines are collected and then pinned on both sides of white picture molding conceived in the dimensions of human vision (200 x 250 x 40 cm). With these fragments of the floor that are taken up and then made to stand up, the horizontal dynamics of standing about, peregrination, and wandering become the issue of an inscription through imprints, and therefore a frontal representation with anthropomorphic framing. An objective moment in freeze frame, setting the work upright allows François Daireaux to distance himself from the territory to travel.
In this same spirit, a range of 177 wall papers (Grisaille, 2001-2002) had already been developed. These were produced using the photographic archives from each of the 177 sculptures of the installation Sans titre, 1999. The project is similar: succeeding in slipping from the dwelling place of the material, through the gesture, to its placing at a distance at the horizon of the wall and the infinite series. It is again from this perspective that we can understand the juxtaposition of the installation PointInfini in Brest and the simultaneous showing of the videos Point 1 and Point 2 in an adjacent room. A ceramist oven makes a hole in a rock wall. By playing with shadows and light, the dull smoke and its depths reflect the blue of the sky, a curious coming and going between inside and outside, mat aspect and shimmering, surface and depth, that reminds the visitor, who stands about on the materiality of the paint, that art is never just a matter of appearing and erasing, of epiphany and forgetfulness. Held between archaism and fascination for technological imagery, these videos set a trap for the viewer and hesitate between the improbable capturing of the real and its mise en scène. In doing so, François Daireaux questions our difficulty to accept the uncertainties of the visible, our reluctance to comprehend the images as mediations in a direction that always escapes us.

The textures of exile

Step by step, we begin to understand how the undertaking of François Daireaux has its origins in an intimate project, close to skins, their porosities and interferences, so to stretch outwards in a movement to take distance. From here, many strategies are explored, allowing the artist to control the intensity of a plastic universe originally created in the artist studio. First of all, the encounter between the work and the territory, that takes shape in proposals involving the covering of the floor, announces travels and wanderings to come. Then the confrontation of the work with frontality and the making into series, which also lifts the gaze towards the horizon, pushes it out of the studio and initiates the leap towards the quest.
Yet, perhaps it is the work involving images created while being put to the test when traveling that best allow François Daireaux to recover, within the very material of the real, the intensity of the proposals suspended in the studio. Because there comes a time when everything occurs as though his artistic adventure were to be read as a secret, constructive, and thrilling writing about breaking roots at the base of faraway horizons. A silent work, completely conceived as the story of breaking, that elaborates, for the attentive eye, a visual grammar about the quest, traveling, and even perhaps destitution. A story that crosses unstable borders, in continual mobility. A wandering in constant negotiation with the effects of desertion and obliteration.
In a game between sensitive resonances, a series of works appear that are inlays of the work in the texture of the world. In particular, I’m thinking of a remarkable video (Surface, 2003) filmed in the oil fields in Baku, in Azerbaijan. Here, all the elements, well ripened by the work, seem to be concentrated in a light pack to be exiled in transit. The subtle textures captured by the photographs, some shimmering, dull, grainy, brittle and humid, an entire theatre of mucous membranes, down, sequins that make the sensual tonality of the studio piece. In complicity with the artist-land surveyor, the attentive eye recognizes, in these forgotten fragments, the works potentially conceived by the artist. The imprint game is displaced: it is the real itself that makes the mold, and the eye of the camera curls up like docile plaster. In Baku, it becomes obvious that the founding gesture of boring-pumping-filling, reinvested by the machinery of the industrial site, takes on an allegorical dimension. While the metallic cores drive deep into the ground, there reins here an atmosphere of inhospitality that forbids any root taking, any germinating, any stable settling down. The smooth and shimmering perfection of the hydrocarbon pools, in which the sky is reflected, functions as a call to order: one must leave, withdraw to the horizon, and add a step to the steps, a gesture to the gestures, an image to the images. Though from here onwards, everything is in place so that the voyage becomes a serious question.
Taking note of the endless process that leads to departure and wandering, François Daireaux immediately recognizes what, at the root of his travels, founds his own approach in the world: the ontological value of the gesture that makes and gives birth, its attentive and controlled repetition. Veritable suture in the fragmentation of traveling, the traditional gesture naturally asserts itself, to the eye of the land surveyor, as a reassuring, invariant point. With the passing wanderings, from country to country, the artist collects this manual choreography that founds the construction of a culture in a ritual dimension throughout time (111 Suite, Work in progress, 2004-2008). From the tanner to the tiler, to the dressmaker, to the ceramist, an endless succession of repetitive works is collected. They function as possible moorings in an unknown land. The gesture, its hypnotic repetition, its infallible control, and especially its transmission through heritage, build a link between the studio work and the quest of the nomad. From Morocco to China, India to Algeria, François Daireaux recognizes the foundations of creation in these hypnotic movements and rituals that control the material. Carrier for all of the memories, all the stories, all the languages, the traditional gesture takes the role of the seam in the fabric of a work in constant mobility. It allows for an essential transformation, that of the restlessness of the walker in creative stability.

Archiving suspension

After all, there is archiving in the movement of François Daireaux. Something that has us recall conceptual artists’ catalogues, such as those of the Becher couple, the photographic traces of ephemeral works conserved by the Land Art artists, or even the collections of objects photographed by J.-L. Moulène. For if the studio work is the source of the leap towards the textures of the world, it is necessary that, in a coming and going movement, the recognition of the work in the real goes back to the studio, so that the intimate energies of the work can be brought to their full measure. From the piece suspended in the artist studio to the fragilities of the real, from the stockings filled with plaster to the boundary marker filled with cement, from the solitary gesture to the recognition of the transmissible traditional gesture, from the nomad’s pack to the mattress makers’ bags [(Rabat, 2008)], it is necessary that a back and forth dynamic establishes itself so that the investigations can find its infinite spiral shape. This fluid current between the inside and outside allows François Daireaux to build a multitude of connections between the world and the studio, which organize themselves into series, collections, continuations, and variations. What weaves at the heart of the work progressively becomes informal and elusive, to the point of appearing to turn around an empty center, an absence. With this spiral energy, the suspension gathered from the outside becomes a part of the studio work, while the travels and the wanderings lighten the pieces elaborated on the inside.
In this spirit, as much as to share in the moment of a walker’s disequilibrium as to reconstruct the small makeshift stalls that are set up and taken down on the marketplaces of India and Africa, François Daireaux placed images taken during his faraway wanderings on the floor of the Abbey Maubuisson (Cent une, 2008). What is at play here depends both on the immateriality of the image and the concreteness of what it represents. It is up to the visitor to take the role of the tightrope walker, to stand in the middle of an unstable equivalence. Surveying the imaginary land of the work floating about the photographs placed like empty pedestals, the visitor hesitates between the register of the evocation of the crowded alley and that of the visual composition conceived by the artist. As though in a labyrinth, the visitor is subjected to a multiplicity of possible paths, paths that disturb him and upset his sense of orientation, while playing on contrary reflections and the inversion of axes. The overhanging perspective is that of the cartographer, who must constantly negotiate between the open awareness of a land to travel and the precision of the photographic detail. What ensues is a true optical vertigo that slows the walk and troubles the too obvious connections.

Towards a blind spot

A real point of order in the variations of François Daireaux, the installation that takes shape around the face of P. Chellappan crowns the oscillation between the studio and the departures, on the thematic of the impossible portrait. Model at the art school in Trivandrum, India, P. Chellappan has offered his face to modeling class students for forty years. The numerous portraits of P. Chellappan completed throughout the years disappear progressively, abandoned to the school garden’s bad weather. From one sculpture to another, the variations are infinite, caused by both the wears of time and the students’ interpretations. In fact, if we were to observe all of them, one after another, it would become very difficult to imagine the model’s true face. Somehow, we find ourselves before a portrait with no face, i.e. without real identity. Sensitive to this instability, François Daireaux proposes the model a twenty-five minute pause in front of the objective steadiness of his camera. Thus in a discreet movement of identification, he seems to offer the model a stable and reassuring marker. At the same time, this intense steadiness of the camera is placed in comparison with the ensemble of moldings recovered from the school gardens. Hence, it becomes perilous to synthesize the privacy of P. Chellappan. Yet without doubt, what is most troubling lies within the docile immobility of the filmed model, who appears to also observe himself without being able to recognize himself. There, where the students only reproduced the features of his face, François Daireaux succeeds in capturing a gaze that is blind to itself. Even though these eyes are aware that they are looking, they do not succeed in understanding what they see. They succeed only in being an anonymous point of view, with no particular appropriation. Now within this movement from the private to the public, from being restrained to offering up, from inside to outside, we find the entire suspended uncertainty of François Daireaux’s approach. From one city to another, from one stop over to another, the nomad resembles this face that comes into contact with all the hands without ever really succeeding in being a portrait of himself. The distance that places itself between the model and his doubles marks out the real gray area that stimulates the approach of François Daireaux: an absence at the center, held between the inside and outside, a portrait that will never be a self-portrait. In this manner, the work of François Daireaux sketches the outline of a blind spot, completely plotted with plaster arabesques and traces of wanderings that both draw it out and envelop it.

Stéphanie Katz, 2009

Translation by Emily Strickland-Wolff