Nicolas Deshayes presents his first major solo exhibition project in France
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Nicolas Deshayes presents his first major solo exhibition project in France
Nicolas Deshayes, Gargouilles, Creux de l'Enfer 23.11.2021 > 06.02.2022. Photo: Vincent Blesbois

THIERS.- Nicolas Deshayes is interested in circulatory systems, domestic pipework, industrial production, and artisanal processes. His works navigate an abstract and mutant aesthetic, situated somewhere between two different axes of making: the organic gesture and industrial production. He operates on the threshold of liquid and solid to explore the relationship between the corporeal and the mechanical.

Born in France in 1983, he studied at Chelsea College of Art and Design and the Royal College of Art in London before moving to Dover in Kent. While his work has been shown extensively in the UK, Germany, or Italy, he is presenting his first major solo exhibition project in France, occurring simultaneously in two venues:

• At the FRAC Grand Large in Dunkerque, which surveys ten years of work.
• At Le Creux de l’enfer Art Centre in Thiers, for which he has developed different bodies of work in response to the site’s rich industrial and folkloric context in la Vallée des usines (factory valley).

Throughout the ground floor of Le Creux de l’enfer, large cast aluminium fountains take the form of undulating upright forms, knotting or coiling like digestive tracts on the surface of a vast custom-built pool. Their bloated silhouettes are animated by a graceful and silent choreography, like synchronised swimmers expressing the visceral joys of a mute existence. They spit, rummage, piss and ejaculate, seeming to celebrate the fertility of aquatic and subterranean worlds. This delicate, subdued ballet contrasts with the powerful roar of the waterfall that crashes at the foot of the building.

The second floor of the gallery focusses on new series’ of works in bronze and vacuum-formed plastic made locally during an affiliated production residency. As an organ of surface and exchange between inside and out, here, ‘skin’ has been used as a territory of formal exploration. Through a pairing of opposing processes Deshayes contrasts high and low materials in a non-hierarchical manner. Hand-painted vacuum formed works speak of kitsch mass-produced charcuterie packaging and industrial processing, while bronzes (Gargouilles, 2021) feature close-up views of smooth or lumpy surfaces, folded, perforated and sometimes dotted with hairs, to create strange epidermal landscapes suggesting flesh or stone in multiple states.

First modelled in clay before being transformed into metal, blocks of visceral matter have been sectioned, bound, butchered and perforated with erect needles that seem to have burrowed upwards to find light. Punctuated with foreign elements such as flaccid drill bits, a disproportionate finger, or even a limbless stomach in a bathtub; Deshayes plays with our expectations of scale. The result is a series of sculptures that are at once alive and sensitive but also very much dead and offered for study like medical specimens.

All these objects and signs either emerge from the legends and history of the site or are imagined by the artist as clues to a grotesque, deliberately strange and dreamlike narrative which echoes Luis Buñuel’s suurealist manifesto film Un chien andalou (1929) and the classic scene, as fascinating as it is repulsive, of an eye slit by a razor blade.

Working with contrasts in the scale of objects, opposing surfaces and materials, mixing figurative elements with enigmatic substances, Nicolas Deshayes’ work is equivocal, symbolic, and trivial. Seductive as much it is disturbing or funny, it feeds on paradoxes where the body is a vector of contradictions but also a ground for unlimited experimentation.

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