Paris. Rue Faubourg Saint Honore. Enter Parisian auction house, Galerie Piasa. The air is dense with "seekers" and mysterious objects of decorative and cultural value that encompass two entire floors. It is a large-scale treasure box. Affluent French locals, the Chinese, and other miscellaneous foreigners frantically rummage through the goods with eagle eyes. It is at this specific moment, one grasps the big picture poignancy of what this means: one day, a slice of Chinese history, in the form of an everyday-life artifact, will be spread across various homes all over the world, stored away in a safe somewhere or mummified and encased in galleries. These rare objects tell stories of a certain time in The Middle Kingdom that we can no longer witness.

Human creations, no matter to which culture they belong, become precious relics as time passes. Therefore it is only natural to hold on to what we know we can no longer have. This may also be the reason why we feel needy to acquire and own a piece of history by buying it or immortalizing that connection through a camera lens.

Something was certainly impregnating this space with an intense sense of urgency. Yet, with a determined focus, one cuts through the heated energy of the excited mob to hear the voice of François Dautresme channeling through these extraordinary objects. This immense surface represents 35 years of one man's passion, obsession, and eye for beauty inspired from his recurrent travels to The Middle Kingdom.


Photo: François Dautresme


Photos: François Dautresme, Mona Kim



Photo: François Dautresme
Beauty in Utility
These objects are
part of the natural process of
what a man is able to produce if he is respectful of his past,
has exceptional manual skills,
and is possessed by the rhythms of nature.


A folding portfolio made of paper and textile.
It contains 31 various-sized paper boxes which can be opened successively.

When one concentrates on seeing each object, they start to speak. They recount imaginary stories and transport us back to hidden places thousands of kilometers away and back in time: noises of markets; pungent smells; sounds of clattering bowls; tea being poured; floors being broomed; radishes being grated; herbalists concocting exotic potions from animal parts; screaming children at play with masks; neighborhood murmurs . . . In some lost place in deep China, some time ago, women and men in rural areas were making objects of remarkable beauty and art simply for the purpose of survival and function.

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A special thank you to Françoise Dautresme
for her generosity to share this incredible legacy of her cousin François and the CFOC empire they had
built together, and to Nelson Sepulveda for connecting us.



François Dautresme(left) with his cousin Françoise Dautresme (right)

François Dautresme (1925-2002) was the Founder of CFOC (Compagnie Française de l'Orient et de la Chine, French Company of the Orient & China) in 1965. Seduced by tales recounted by his uncle Jacques Dautresme, a captain of overseas courier crossings, China soon became François' central passion. During his 35 years of countless travels and explorations in this land, he collected a staggering number of objects and extensively photodocumented its culture, particularly in its rural areas. The synergy between beauty and utility was at the heart of his fascination.

Mona Kim is the Founder and Editor of Moowon, and the Creative Director of award-winning multidisciplinary design studio, Mona Kim Projects. The Moowon project is an extension of her background in co-curating and designing thematic museums and exhibitions for cultural institutions. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, WWD(Women's Wear Daily), The Creative Review, and in publications by Gestalten and The Art Institute of Chicago.


PHOTOS & TEXT: COPYRIGHT © MOOWON / MONA KIM PROJECTS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
CHINA DOCUMENTARY PHOTOS: © FRANÇOIS DAUTRESME / ARCHIVE COURTESY OF FRANÇOISE DAUTRESME. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.