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François Mayu at the Chemin des Dames / Photo, April 2016
Mayu, François
(born on 15.11.1955 in Saint-Cloud)
French sculptor and painter

François Mayu looking for shrapnels at the Chemin des Dames.

Photo, April 2016 (Franck...
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War and Memory
100 years after the First World War ceasefire, how can one remember the end of this worldwide conflict, involving 72 nations at various levels and costing more than 18 million lives?

Will the event be "ticked off" after the official ceremonies have been completed? Certainly not. In France, the theatre of war covered much of its territory, nearly 1,400,000 French and colonial soldiers died on the battlefield. Every French family remembers a grandfather, an uncle, or a son of friends who fell in the Somme, in Verdun ...

In 2000, François Mayu, a member of the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs, left the communications agency he co-founded twenty years ago and set out to explore a battlefield that will not leave him alone: ??the Chemin des Dames. His maternal grandfather, Benjamin Bourlier, was wounded in Verdun and died in 1953, never meeting François. Only in February 2018 he learnt that his grandfather had also fought in July 1917 at the Chemin des Dames. At the time, François Mayu had already spent several winter weeks at Chemin des Dames for the past 15 years, walking the fields, lowering his eyes to the ground to look for fragments of the battle. Here he found pieces of shrapnel in large quantities, but also life-indicators (bottles, a pocket watch, fragments of scores). In December 2016, he discovered human bones next to empty cartridge cases. He alerted the authorities who were holding the remains of three soldiers, two of whom could be identified on the basis of the military identification found. This discovery enabled a Breton family to bury a family member who had fallen on April 16, 1917, one hundred years later. But that is not the core of the artistic work of François Mayu.

He picks up the pieces of shrapnel from the ground without ever digging, cleaning, processing and soldering. He creates long-limbed sculptures with sublime silhouettes, which he himself feels "calmed down". But they are also reminiscent of the injured bodies of the soldiers or "The dismay of the nurse". The rugged steel testifies to the fatal trajectory of the projectiles, the matter recalls the origin of the sculptures. Some of them, with more abstract shapes like a column or a circle, question with their titles: "For what victory?" or "The Scoop".

François Mayu, still fascinated by the Chemin des Dames, also paints minimalist paintings, interpretations of his feelings for this plateau, the scene of the unspeakable. Battlefield horizon lines, white or reddish stripes on a black background, irregular stripes on a whitish background evoke a churning horizon, explosions, charred trees. Some paintings are very similar to the photos taken during the First World War and contrasted with them in this selection.

Thanks to the sculptures and paintings by François Mayu, history becomes tangible, continued, transformed by the art that challenges us. The trajectory of the shrapnel - fixed in the works and their photographs - stirs us up, disturbs us, makes us think and feel things we have no direct memory of. François Mayu concludes, "I help make sure that we do not forget."