Since June 1996, François has been working on a permanent work commissioned by the Mondriaan Stichting’s Praktijkbureau Beeldende Kunstopdrachten for the De Kijvelanden detention clinic in Rotterdam. In a strikingly close collaboration between the artist and the inmates, François designed a display case in which they exhibit either something they made specially for the case or something of themselves. In response to his work for such an inaccessible institution, François will realize a specific project for public-orientated spaces of Witte de With. With a so-called “documentary” section of his exhibition consisting of objects and images, François will refer to the experiences he acquired through his contact with the detention clinic’s inmates.

The personal perception of reality forms the main starting point for Michel François’ work. He inventories the world around us by way of antitheses: formal opposites such as the sculptural extremes of concave-convex and empty-full; and such opposites as freedom and imprisonment, poor and rich. Work versus free time is one of the contrasts that determines our day to day life. François attached wires with casts of neon lights throughout the entire exhibition space, referring to the industrial lightsource that determines the sphere of so many work places. Facing the lights was a large carpet on which the visitor could stretch before a scramble of televisions and watch François’ video works. Prison versus images of laughing and playing children (survival versus playing). Dark area versus light (night versus day).

The exhibition incites a redefinition of the instances in which the structure of our society lies closed off: the public space of the museum against the inaccessible institution of the prison; school against house; playground against work space; social life against private life. François is interested in both the parts and the whole: the city as a geographic area in which individual worlds are simultaneously born side by side, where independent realities form at once one reality. By visualizing these opposites, François makes an appeal to our sensory perceptions and our capacity for interpretation as a means of raising individual and social consciousness.

Michel François has never wanted to limit himself to one discipline. He uses all sorts of materials and a range of methods, combining industrial and natural objects, photographs and installations into a result that appeals to all of our senses. François analyzes and refers to everyday customs and habits in an associative manner without detracting from their general validity. According to François, we can become poetically acquainted with the world around us through our aesthetic experience. He shares the arte povera artist’s preference for materials devoid of artistic meaning, revealing their inherent sculptural and aesthetic qualities without negating their original identity. This honest attitude towards materials marks as well François’ project at Witte de With.

The exhibition is made in collaboration of the Centre Cultural Tecla Sala, L’Hospitalet, in Barcelona.