There is something at once spooky and scintillating about Deidre DeFranceaux’s “Inflatables.” The visceral meat puppets hang, when empty, like skins flayed from their bodies by a fiendish surgeon straight out of Clive Barker’s Hell. or an unrated Cronenberg film. They seem in line with a flashback from a nightmare that could keep Hannibal Lector awake, biting his fingernails.
Then the magic happens . . . air slowly begins to fill the sagging sacks of fleshy limbs and flabby torsos and the bodies begin to swell . . . first I imagined bloated drowning victims, all of a color, lacking identifying features. But they metamorphose into something breathtakingly beautiful and tragically fragile.
Now there is an almost birth-like wonder as these people – yes, now they are people instead of creepy, empty hides – slowly take on a peaceful, majestic poise in their fulfillment. They embody success. They breathe. They … Become.
Their pneumatic pulse holds me mesmerized, tense. And then, the air gasps out of them and they slowly return to their hollow, sickly stance — and we have just witnessed the cycle of life in a few precious minutes, and without death or taxes !
I first saw Deige’s installation “Bending Over Backwards & Doing the Impossible” in 1998 at San Francisco’s Cellspace, standing shoulder to shoulder with John Law, both of us impressed and aghast simultaneously. He turned and cocked an eyebrow at me before leaving, silent. That was years ago, before i met either him or Deige. But I soon found myself meeting Deige socially and realize now that i have waited ever since for a chance to see her remarkable inflatables.
Deige explains that these inflatables begin as life-size figures she sculpts from cement, drawing on her deliciously expansive imagination and voluptuously sensual style rather than a life model. These become the molds for her skins, which she forms from latex and pantyhose – both barriers to sex — skin on skin. They are organic sex dolls – yet too visceral to be erotic, too demanding of emotional and intellectual rumination to “demand complete abandon” for the sexual abandon Simone de Beauvoir wrote of.
Their pneumatic life force is derived from solenoid valves and super high-grade industrial shipping timers that trigger the sequence that inflates the figures one by one.
Deidre’s new installation, “Gestation and Loss”, introduces nine female figures, describing the creative process, paralleled with gestation and giving birth. Seated, the first figure comes to life, her arms raised, embracing nothing. She is virginal and maiden, wanting. The second form find herself in her first trimester, apparently her desire for connection to the creative process has been granted. The third woman is in her second trimester, and the fourth, in her third trimester full-bellied and near her full potential with creative force. The three remaining chairs repeat the cycle in reverse, mirroring the process, but unnaturally, as instead of birth the creative spark is sucked from her, leaving her barren, drained, unfulfilled.
An eighth woman is swollen by the end of her pregnancy. The agony of the creative process and the need for release is dramatically presented as she writhes on the floor, in labor.
The final figure inflates and deflates in “PhotoBoof!” Wrybread’s installation of old fashioned photo booth, in which guests are encouraged to enter for a photo session. The resulting photo strips are printed in high quality color and are simultaneously uploaded on Wrybread’s website.
Usually a time for celebration, Deidre was devastated the night after her Cellspace exhibit closed. She had just taken down her installation, loaded it into her van, and driven home. Before morning, her van and her entire installation inflatable art, expensive air pumps and gear, was stolen.
Like any great artist, Deidre has used her mishaps and sorrows to inspire her artwork. And like her dynamic, unstoppable, successful creations, she is only deflated for a short time, before blooming, growing, reaching up and expanding again into her true potential. Art is life. And life is survival. And Deidre is a survivor, strong and beautiful and as thought-provoking as her art.
“This show is so much more elegant and narrative,” said Deige, more relaxed than usual before a big show. She is looking forward to the big opening party, ZOOM! on Friday, May 19th at 7 p.m. The gallery, Red Ink Studios, is on 52 9th Street @ Jesse in San Francisco. http://redinkstudios.com
— Amacker Bullwinkle, May 17, 2006