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François Daireaux, concerning Vert de terre

- Your work is composed of 56 elements realised from thermofusible glue injected in blocks of green floral mousse hollowed out beforehand. These elements were arranged on the surface of a picture rail. At the galley entrance, prior even to discovering the collection which I have just described, the viewer finds himself opposite 5 photographs, 5 images of 5 elements doubled in size. What is interesting is that these elements have already been used in a previous work…

- It is operating mode which I elaborated for an installation at the municipal galley E. Manet at Gennevilliers in January 99. It was composed of 800 units 20 times smaller than those which I am presenting here. Lined up on the floor, defined a perimeter which one could cross. My work is often based on the developing of a unit which, while repeating itself, changes form and colour. It is never quite the same element. Difference and repetition are recurrent preoccupations in my work. The units doubled in size at Pougues accentuate the monumental aspect. They are installed in a frieze and recall the notion of the motif.

- These units, these unities, have been placed the length of the surface of a wall. SO they are confronted with this surface. The work seems to oscillate between sculpture and painting. Is this wavering between sculpture and painting, this sliding from one to the other one of your preoccupations ?

- It is something in which I am very interested. I define myself more as a sculptor but the wall used by painters. I work a lot on material and materials and yet, I have the unceasing impression that I am tending towards dematerialization, that is to say that I choose sculpture and at the same time I don’t want to make sculptures. One of my problems is going against a materiality often linked to classical sculpture. When I stick these elements on the wall, when I hang them, I deny their relief, their volume, their weight. I treat them like strokes of paint. As if they were self-bearing elements there is a direct rapport with the earth which is made known. When I install a sculpture I try to invert the work, to present it like the work of a painter. It is a way of shaking things up at a given moment, to put them in place. .

- These units have an organic, biomorphic form…
- My current work is very organic and impregnated by a very mechanical implementation.

- What does this struggle against materiality signify ?
- It is a contradiction which I question.

- You occupy the surface of the wall like certain 20th century painters occupied their canvas. I’m thinking of Strzeminski, Pollock, Rothko or Toroni, one could of course find other examples – that is to say that the canvas was treated as a surface, filled in a homogeneous manner, without hierarchy or depth. Your elements leave empty zones on the picture rail, but nevertheless occupy the whole area. How are they arranged ?

- They are placed in a more or less random manner to cover the whole of the surface of the wall in a homogeneous way. It is the occupation of a mural surface with a desire of equilibrium and a good distribution of the masses.

- Why choose this floral mousse ? What physical characteristics interested you ? Its colour ?
- Paint is present even in the material and its colour. It is given by the floral mousse which I use. For a previous realisation I contacted two manufacturers of tights so that they would give me their 1995 collection. It is the mousse which defines the colours of the works. In this way, one could imagine the production of a new piece following the same process but using the 1999 collection. The work would certainly have had very different colours. Colours change according to fashions, evolve, deteriorate with time.
I had noticed in the floral decoration departments in shops – I often find my materials in department stores – that floral mousse is a material which discolours in daylight. Its unstable colour, its fragility, are qualities which interest me. It is enough to place one’s finger on it to leave a mark. It records the smallest event. It is like a sponge. I like unstable, changing materials, which move with time, which need attention, expertise. These are materials on which I can write a story.

- It seems to me that you are also interested in the function and the significance of this material…
- A material is never used purely for its physical qualities. The fact that this mousse, saturated with water, keeps flowers fresh for flower arrangements stimulates my imagination. It makes me think of the conservation of something which ends up deteriorating to nothing. I am very preoccupied by these notions. The funereal aspect which is found in my piece is also important. In my work, there is a notion of flowers, of immortality. In the place of flowers, I stuck a stick. All of that ends up by creating a story, it is not just a material but also a symbolic support. But everything is implied. The public does not necessarily need this information to appreciate my work. I don’t like overly explicit reasoning

- So you think that in art today things are too often simplified and clearly expressed ?

- Certain artists say « I do that because I want to say that and that ». They show, expose the directions for use. They leave no liberty to the other. Sense is swiftly used up. It is quite a scholarly process. That can work in certain cases, but not for everyone. As far as I’m concerned, if the spectator looks at my work purely in its formal aspect, he misses my reasoning. The work with the green mousse poses a number of questions which go beyond the form. The action of mechanically sticking a stick in a block of mousse makes me think of Hantaï. It is a blind man’s work.

- You have just used the word mechanical several times to qualify a production process and the fact that your units are realised from an automatic, repeated movement. There is therefore a certain anonymity in the execution of the work. When you stab the mousse do you never attempt to anticipate the form ?

- No, not really, I stick the stick in the block, I bore, I empty, I fabricate emptiness. I know that I should not exceed the limit. My movement is very mechanical, meditative. I print, I save. There is a great detachment in this process. When I pour the glue at a high temperature, I let the materials react with each other, I know that that goes on on the inside, that I cannot control everything. I observe. I appreciate this detachment. The unit is a recording, a crystallisation.

- Having talked about sculpture in pictorial terms you are now using photographical notions. Impression, recording, these words evoke the idea of the trace, the imprint, of having been there, the clue, the index. You talk of symbolic movement but aren’t you interested by the direct imposition of things, by something sub- or pre-symbolic ?
- The units are practically homothetic to a photographic format, they are fixed moments. The dimension of time is very important in this work. In its fabrication mode. My sculptures are like traps, I cannot retrace my steps. When I stab everything is saved. When I talk about sensitive photographic plate and printing, one cannot help thinking of the memory. In the end everything is saved and in an irreversible way.

- The disposition of units and their forms create tension. By their strangeness the forms arouse sensations… They seem clear, natural but are at the same time disturbing, situated between the unknown, the unspeakable and the familiar. The observer seems to me to find himself in a situation where he perceives contradictory emotions.

- These forms are projection surfaces, receptacles so that people can projects their fantasies, their visions, their impressions. They are sensitive photographic plates, as well as being clichés.

- The colour is cold and ambiguous, neither natural, nor artificial…
- The colour is slightly hard to define, a sort of greenish. This greenish casing is reminiscent of camouflage. Sometimes, the organic side of these works disturbs me. Isn’t a work designed to be disturbing ? And if one is not disturbed by one’s own work who will be disturbed by it ?

- What concerns me is that, despite its organic aspect, your work possess certain minimalist traits – the idea of a kind of retraction by the artist, this notion of multiplication, of seriality, of repetition, the criticism of the illusionist pictorial space, the criticism of the Euclidean space… Of course your intention is totally different, your forms are not industrial. You are not only interested in phenomenology. Your work calls on the sensitive and the imaginary and you realise your pieces yourself

- Everything I make is homemade. I use industrial materials, but I make everything myself. In contemporary art it is not common to find artists working by hand and it is strongly criticised, it can appear naff. Today the artist often has others produce what he has thought up. I am not uninterested in this kind of thing but it worries me when that becomes a dogma and the artist forbids himself to make, as if the manipulation and the transformation of the material were taboos. It is important to transform, to be in contact with the materials, I need that. When I take photos I sometimes feel a certain frustration. The material and the subject are at such a distance that I feel an emptiness which I need to fill. During the production of my works, I wait for certain incidents, certain unexpected things, which are going to affect my reflection, my thoughts. I wait for that. That gives me access to things I would not otherwise have been able to reach. I like that way of moving forwards… It is true that sometimes I make a bit of science fiction, there are universes in my work which are attached to strange and supernatural forms, mutants, but at the same time it is very controlled, everything is calibrated, it is not something which is going to evolve in an anarchical way, there is an order. This latest work is very ordered. To return to the repetition, it is a way of questioning the image and the multiple for example, which are the preoccupations of the history of sculpture.

- Despite its development over the length of the wall, your work solicits the body of the spectator and seems to surround it. Are you demanding « landscapes »
- Often I realise installations with large dimensions so that the public finds itself physically implicated. Bringing the spectator into my work is an important dimension. It corresponds to this impression of crossing a space or a landscape and not knowing anymore whether one is on the inside – or if one is simply external – to what is going on. It is also crossing the painting space. My work consists of creating images, so that at a given moment the person who looks at it finds himself enveloped by the image.

- How exactly does the Pougues work envelop the spectator ? You put the viewer in an ambiguous position. He is in the impossible position of being able to see at the same time the object and its photographic representation. He is always between the two, between representation and a physical experience which does not dispose of the material or the tactile…
- When the spectator enters the art centre, he is first confronted by 5 images. Then he leaves these images behind him and discovers the wall with its 56 sculptures. So he is opposite reality. The rapport with the photographic representation of sculpture double its real size is obviously very different. The photographic image is already a representation. Some people prefer the image of the sculpture to the real thing. The photographic medium evokes loss, the passage to a whole other presence. The envelopment realises itself in two phases. A notion of time space is established in this displacement. It is tempted to come back later like in a film. This cinema notion seems important to me for this work. The piece exposed at Gennevilliers was, also, a bit like the bobbin of a film with its images except that it does not have 24-image seconds.

- There is something undefinable, fleeting, in your work which one cannot classify, the tracks cross each other and are muddled up…
- It is something which I even maintain a bit in my conversation. If everything is said I don’t see the point. I am searching for a certain liberty. I want my work to remain open, that it is possible to go in different directions.

This conversation took place on 30 November 1999 at the Parc Saint Léger, Centre d’Art Contemporain within the context of François Daireaux’s residency at Pougues-les-Eaux.