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Michel François

Pieces of evidence

30 April — 22 June 2014

Ikon presents the first UK survey of work by Belgian artist Michel François, comprising sculpture, film and photography. It exemplifies the artist’s conviction that the meanings of a work of art are determined through its combination with others in relation to an exhibition space. Visitors to Ikon encounter numerous pieces to be read as a whole, integrated with the entire building.

The exhibition title, Pieces of evidence, refers to François’ fascination with a netherworld, drawing comparisons between the ingenuity of artists and criminals. The key installation here involves a projected film in which we see the hands of a magician skilfully examining everyday objects – drinks cans, cosmetic bottles – before revealing hidden compartments and illegal substances within. The objects themselves are exhibited in vitrines nearby. Another work, Stumbling Block II (Wall) (1989), is a large rectangular block of polystyrene secured to the wall with strips of brown tape, a sculptural translation of a convicted smuggler’s failed attempt to conceal drugs by strapping them across their body. An art object is likened to contraband.

The idea of crossing international frontiers – illegally or otherwise – is conveyed by Surveying (1993), a video of an inchworm walking over a map of the world. This funny creature signifies the artist’s free spirit with respect to art as much as his geographical itinerancy, a kind of energy that spurs us to keep moving, keep looking, and keep asking questions. Likewise, Golden Cage 1 (2008–2009), considers the notion of frontiers. A large free-standing steel box, from which A4-sized sections have been uniformly cut, it is a structure on the verge of collapse. It is a cage with walls thatresemble the gilded left-overs of a manufacturing process, with cut out shapes scattered within. François presents this work as symbolic of human migration across the Mexican/US border, the hollow dreams of finding a better place, the cage being desirable in a way that its contents are not.

A further work, Self-Portrait Against Nature (2002), shows the artist, seen from above, walking around on a hard concrete floor and smoking while empty wine bottles drop and smash around him. It suggests a kind of solitude and self-destructiveness that throw any hints of joy into sharp relief. Broken Neon Lights (2003), has a similar edginess as François stamps his feet through a path of neon tubes, laid widthways, resulting in lots more broken glass. The action is transgressive and the feeling one of anger.

The exhibition is accompanied by a new publication featuring a text by writer and critic Martin Herbert.

Michel François’ exhibition Pieces of evidence is supported by The Henry Moore Foundation; Wallonie-Bruxelles International; Lafarge Tarmac; Bortolami Gallery, New York; Galerie Carlier Gebauer, Berlin; Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris; Thomas Dane Gallery, London and Galerie Xavier Hufkens, Brussels.