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Michael Bierut

The Bones of Francois Robert


Gun by Francois Robert

Francois Robert was at an auction in rural Michigan. It was the mid 1990s. A school was selling off supplies, and Robert was looking to buy some furniture for his studio. "I was interested in buying some lockers, and they had three for $50." Two of the lockers were empty, but not the third. When Robert opened it up, he found a human skeleton.

The skeleton, fully articulated and in reasonably good condition, must have served as a teaching aid in a science class. Francois Robert is a photographer. He took the lockers back to his studio in Chicago. It took him years to figure out what to do with the skeleton. 

"Bones have always fascinated me," says Robert. His portfolio has always included images of animal skulls, recovered from the desert. He once spent five weeks photographing skulls in the collection of the Field Museum of Natural History. By 2007, the recession was taking its toll. "I had so much extra time. What was I going to do with it?" He turned to the skeleton in his locker.


Robert realized that his skeleton was limited: it was wired together for display. He decided he wanted a skeleton he could take apart. Online, he found a source for disarticulated human skeletons, and he traded his in, and took delivery of a box containing 206 separate bones, each the real thing, not plaster or resin.

Since then, Robert has spent hundreds of hours working with those bones, arranging them painstakingly into striking, iconic shapes, each five or six feet wide, and photographing them with a 4x5 Hasselblad rigged to a boom to provide a bird's eye view. He calls the resulting images "Stop the Violence." Each shot takes a full day to set up. "I was on my knees for all of 2008," Robert remembers. 

The results are beautiful and haunting. Robert confesses that more than anything else he is motivated by the fear of death. "The bones are something left behind, a form of memory," he says. "I try to treat that person on my studio floor with respect."
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Comments (31)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

While I cannot deny the seductive formal beauty of this body of work and its impeccable craft I find the symbolism heavy-handed. The skeleton is used as a symbol of death, therefore _____= death. Is this really adding anything to the conversation?
Andrew DeRosa
04.22.10 at 12:16

How about humanity creates the means to its own end?
Britt Perkins
04.22.10 at 02:07

these are totally bitchin' francois.

i'd rather pop bones than yves behar lamps anyday. where can we buy prints!
felix sockwell
04.22.10 at 02:37

I knew I always wanted to donate my skeleton, somehow, but wasn't really sure on the vision. After seeing this, my vision is clear. Thank you for sharing!
Bek
04.22.10 at 04:28

Maybe it's just me, but I find this work rather repetitive. Once you see one image, you've seen them all. And in general, this idea of making letters and signs out of...whatever, is becoming a rather tired concept. Just ask Stefan Sagmeister.
Constantin Boym
04.22.10 at 04:45

This is still navelgazing and only a slight step up from Helfand's poindexterous article about cemeteries. As for Sagmeister, he may be a trendy predictable schlockster working with words but Boym (if it is that Boym) has been even worse as a one trick pony with those disaster objects for years.
roy
04.22.10 at 05:44

Just stunning! It is hard to make a comment about beauty in the context of themes of death and killing but the impact of these images is momentous and they are really beautiful in themselves!
Susanna Carter
04.22.10 at 10:28

I have seen this kind of art which is like a smorgasbord of different items made into one art form. I found also a thing like this on some professional twitter backgrounds and retro twitter backgrounds. There is this one professional twitter background though that I appreciated the most.

Sometimes we really different things coming up into one single image. The rough plane of a newly built house for example, I sometimes see a human face there.
Taylor Potter
04.23.10 at 12:24

I thought these were kewl when I thought they were plastic model parts now I know they are simply brilliant! But I would like to know the story of the Skeleton, who was she and where did she come from? And I'm sure some other AD will copy them maybe even American Express. Great work Francois!
Tom Willett
04.23.10 at 04:13

I, too, have a fascination with bones, and find these to be meaningfully and beautifully done. Well done, Francois!
Sanford
04.23.10 at 09:29

Love it you slags
vicky canoe
04.23.10 at 04:18

I love that gun created from bones. Good notion!
Dammit, why didn't I think of that.
Oz Durham
04.24.10 at 11:34

I find this work totally boring and simplistic. It doesn't say anything interesting about death or the other subjects it carelessly addresses, and it reflects a black and white idea of the world. More problematically, it lumps together numerous complicated issues without investigating them past their negative aspects. Disease, war, and weapons are bad? OMG No way, REALLY? It's actually offensive to me that such serious subject matter was turned into such terrible art.
Ellen Nielsen
04.24.10 at 10:19

Yes, this exhibit says nothing new and has a very simplistic "statement". So what? Does that mean the work is devoid of value?

What if Francois Robert's work was delivering a "new", "profound", "critical" statement? People would maybe recognize it as such and utter a word or two of admiration... and they still would not pay attention to it. They would turn to their habitual means of self-absorbed escapism and continue to ignore whichever trascending and deep message you people believe an artist ought to be transmitting.

No. We don't need "new" or "profound" statements. We need the old, simplistic ones continually pounded on our heads, since it seems we have such a hard time ingraining the most rudimentary and basic moral concepts in our minds. Francois Robert's work does a good job in advancing that cause. After all, isn't it the case in advertising that people only start thinking about what you are saying after they have grown sick and tired of listening to it over and over?

Besides, is there even *any* innovative thing to say about injustice and death? They are the same they have been since the dawn of mankind.
b.r.o.o.d.y.
04.25.10 at 11:08

I'm dismayed by the inclusion of religious symbols--Christian cross, "Islamic Symbol" (Star and Crescent) and the Star of David right smack alongside the other more obvious symbols of violence (gun, tank, grenade, knife, kalashnikov, etc.) in a series titled "Stop the Violence." Most Christians, Muslims and Jews hold their respective symbols to be sacred, and view them as symbols of peace, not symbols of violence. To use these sacred symbols in this way, just seems like a very clumsy attempt at being intentionally provocative. It also seems terribly insensitive and pretty much guaranteed to offend. And, as such, comes off rather self conscious and not particularly clever.

That said, the assemblages themselves are clever, intricate, and the images strangely beautiful, they remind me of illuminated letters.
Rob Henning
04.25.10 at 11:17

I find the difference between artist intent and viewer perception pretty fascinating. And typically, the viewer takes things at face value.

I would be really interested in hearing what Francois Robert's actual intent was with the series, beyond the title. It seems like most of the posts refer to the subjects in the images as "violent," when in reality, what makes them violent is the human force controlling it, not the things themselves.

So is the artist's intent to say that the human component is what makes these items violent, with the use of the bones? If so, then I find the work pretty brilliant. If not, it's just something else taking responsibility away from where it should be, in the hands of mankind.
Carrie
04.26.10 at 08:31

It is not the photographs or their subject matter that bother me. I think the concept is exceptional, as are the images. It is the title of the collection – Stop the Violence – that I have a problem with. This is where the exhibit gets obvious and preachy. If it had simply been called "Bones" or some such, it would have given me the some small opportunity to make up my own mind about the subject and the artist's intentions. This title is the least imaginative – and most heavy handed — part of the equation.

Also, I did not think that the use of religious iconography is necessarily a bad choice – as others have said – as religion is behind a great deal of the violence in our history (and our present day for that matter). But the random placement of these icons in the slideshow is what made them seem jarring to me. Maybe they should have been last, as a reminder that while they may be symbols of peace they are also used as an excuse for violence in the same manner as the swastika – which is oddly placed at the end of the exhibit. I say oddly because there are many images – the jet fighter for example – that are more "modern" than the swastika. The slideshow format always gives the illusion of a progression through time, even when unintended, so I thought it seemed out of place.

I think the order in which the images are displayed needs to be examined. The images themselves are of parts thoughtfully assembled in an new and evocative way. Greater care should be given in the way the individual images are arranged as well.
KJ Boynton
04.26.10 at 11:25

The Swastika actually appears to be Hindu rather than Nazi. In the former it is usually upright (as it is here). In the latter, rotated 45 degrees. I wonder: Is the Hindu meaning intentional, or does the photographer not know the (subtle) difference?
Rob Henning
04.26.10 at 01:15

Scale is important. What size did Robert decide to make the original photographic prints? Are they huge? Tiny?

Please advise. Thank you.

michelle hauser
04.27.10 at 08:37

Actual size of the bones. Francois
Francois ROBERT
04.29.10 at 12:01

That stuff is awful- pretty but completely predictable, banal and vapid. If it is supposed to move me to think negatively about war, it's a failure. I already am aware of guns, tanks and oil money. What this work actually does is trivialize violence and use war as a hook for self-promotion. It took this guy three years to do this? Mercy.
fleetfootphil
04.30.10 at 01:03

i appreciate the art but am wary of using a real skeleton for this. i realize our valueing of bones has changed over the years and am happy these bones have fallen in the hands of a respectful artists. i myself would research/return or respectfully bury the bones if i could and use reproductions/plastic.
a padre
04.30.10 at 05:02

Wow this is pretty dumb. You forgot the mickey mouse head.
Eddie
04.30.10 at 10:14

Francois, thank you. I appreciate knowing the scale of the work. It helps me to visualize the original pieces. I can imagine that the experience of seeing this series in a gallery setting would be powerful.

michelle hauser
05.02.10 at 09:03

Really neat, interesting work. Though I do really like the suggestion of changing the name to "bones" and letting the viewer draw their own conclusions.
Rob
05.02.10 at 03:18

"Hardship Breeds Creativity"
Alicia Lee Wade
05.02.10 at 10:14

Either this was not "arranging the bones of a single human skeleton" or you used multiple exposures. I can see more than two hands and one skull in some pictures...

Besides that, it looks nice.

Nothing that can't be done on a computer in 1% of the time, just as effective. But maybe it's the morbidity that should fascinate us?
Arjan
06.01.10 at 05:55

These images are thoughtful, meticulous and beautiful.
mg
06.23.10 at 08:08

These are great, really wonderful! can you buyprints of these?
kristin
06.23.10 at 09:30

I agree with many of the negative comments- banal and heavy-handed, though extremely beautiful and striking.

But what sketchtastic online store lets you buy authentic human bones? Is there some kind of screening process or can anyone just order them if they have the cash? My ethical side wants more information and isn't entirely comfortable. It seems crude to use an actual skeleton.
scars
08.16.10 at 09:02

Thanks to share But the random placement of these icons in the slideshow is what made them seem jarring to me. Maybe they should have been last, as a reminder that while they may be symbols of peace they are also used as an excuse for violence in the same manner as the swastika – which is oddly placed at the end of the exhibit. I say oddly because there are many images – the jet fighter for example – that are more "modern" than the swastika. The slideshow format always gives the illusion of a progression through time, even when unintended, so I thought it seemed out of place.

People would maybe recognize it as such and utter a word or two of admiration... and they still would not pay attention to it. They would turn to their habitual means of self-absorbed escapism and continue to ignore whichever trascending and deep message you people believe an artist ought to be transmitting.
erwin
12.09.10 at 01:32



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ABOUT THE SLIDESHOW

For the past three years, Francois Robert has spent hundreds of hours arranging the bones of a single human skeleton into a series of striking iconic shapes, creating a photographic series he calls "Stop the Violence." The results are beautiful and haunting.
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Michael Bierut studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati, and has been a partner in the New York office of Pentagram since 1990. Michael is a Senior Critic in Graphic Design at the Yale School of Art.
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DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Michael Bierut

Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design
Princeton Architectural Press, 2007

Forty Posters for the Yale School of Architecture
Winterhouse Editions, 2007

Looking Closer 5
Allworth Press, 2006

Looking Closer 4
Allworth Press, 2002

Looking Closer 3
Allworth Press, 1999

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