October 6, Dublin. On a night photography walk with Dusk2Dawn Tours, we approached the former studio of U2, Windmill Lane. Said Chris of Amateur Traveler, “The rule of tagging, we learned, is that you’re not supposed to put your tag over someone else’s, unless you know yours will be better.”
— October 1, Paris. Upon suggestion of a friend, I’m outside the 5 rue Fulton in the 13ème arrondisement at the Tour Paris 13 project. This nine-story tower is part of a housing project set to be demolished later this year. Before it’s returned to dust, Itinerrance street art gallerist, Mehdi Ben Cheik, the public housing agency, ICF Habitat La Sablière, and the mayor of the 13th arrondisement, Jérôme Coumet, invited over 100 graffiti artists from 16 countries to use the entire building as their canvas. The artists traveled on their own budget to Paris to participate, working for seven months. Faire la fucking queue pour 2.5 heures. Putain. Happily I have a pen, a notebook and a pain viennoise in my bag since I already feel like this is going to be a long haul.
The exhibit is free to the public but only 49 people are allowed in the building at once (read: long lines probable, bring food and water). A multimedia experience mirroring the building, too, is online. The building will be closed for public viewing on November 1 and then demolished. From November 1 to 10, the public can vote to save some of the online documentation. But judging from the number of DSLR cameras around the necks of humans in line on opening day, they’ll be no shortage of documentation on Flickr of the project. Joining me in line was a woman who used to live in this building on the rez de chaussez (ground floor) three years ago. She wonders how her apartment will look now. Some residents of the still-functioning identical apartment building next door peek their heads out, pull in their windowshades or half-hang their comforters over their sills like large billowy tongues. Office workers from the glass buildings across the street strain their necks to see what’s the fuss. The clique of chain smoking youth behind me came thisclose to triggering my latent asthma. Fumer tue! I thought, as I buried my nose and mouth into my scarf. Luckily we were in line so long the hip kids ran out of loosies. Many entered the line, many left the line. Those of us who remained were handsomely rewarded.
If anyone has any doubts that graffiti is — or is possible of being — art, Paris Tours 13 is something they need to see.
Street art is contemporary art by its nature. It is political, satrical, profane, absurd, full of swag and hype; other times beautiful and nuanced. Without permits, much of it is illegal, strictly speaking. It’s ephemeral, it’s there and then it’s not: whether municipal workers power wash it away, private businesses or homeowners cover it or other taggers bomb it.
No, art should not last forever.
I heard Don “The Don” Hall, host extraordinare of The Moth and storyteller magnifique, recount the story of his divorce at the Solo in the Second City show over at the Beauty Bar last week. Chicago, as other cities in North America now, is home to a burgeoning live literature scene. Most nights of the week, Don tells me, you can see a live literature show, or live lit as it’s known. We’re not talking anything schmaltzy like poetry readings with snappy daddy-o’s. Oh no. It’s usually raucous, human, and frankly, for me, exhilarating to witness the melding and wonderful alchemy of storytelling and writing, performance, audience, artist and community. Some live lit events are taped and podcasted online. Others aren’t. “You know the Ray Bradbury short story? Well, it’s a story about a man in the south of France who, on the beach notices an old man. The old man holds a long stick in his hand and with it (Don pantomines), he’s just drawing the most amazing things in the sand. After a while, the man realizes that this old man is indeed Picasso. Seeing this, the man observing doesn’t know what to do — all this beautiful art is just being washed out with the tide. Finally, he decides to just be present in the moment and enjoy the art while it’s there.” “I mean, that’s what this thing [live lit] is like. Recording and podcasting — fuck that. If you want to hear the story, you gotta fucking be here. That’s it.”
Yes, art should last forever.
Loïc Breton, bon vivant and friend. He’s the one who told me about the Paris Tours project the morning of October 1. “You must do this.” After dinner that night we were sharing about what we each did that day. I said, “The art is there is really great, and it made me think it’s a shame that so many will not see it since it’s being torn down at the end of the month.” “I must go and do it myself. Need to find the time.” “What do you think, should art last forever?” “Well, yes. I mean, this is one of the only place in Paris where we have this kind of thing celebrated. Street art, I mean. Art… It’s the legacy one leaves to the world — more than money that comes and goes. Look at the Eiffel Tower. Can you imagine if they had torn that down? At the time it was rejected, but now it’s the symbol of Paris, even of France. Think about all the art in the Louvre… it’s a record of human history and human experience.”
To experience Tour Paris 13…
Admission is free. 5 rue Fulton in the 13ème arrondisement is closest to the Metro line 6, stop Quai de la Gare. Starting October 18, hours will be extended: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 AM to 8 PM (that’s 20h) with the last entry admitted at 7:15 PM. Sorry Monday, you lose again — the tower’s closed. For ‘virtual’ visitors, the website and free tablet apps on Google or iTunes have documented the decorated spaces ‘to the tiniest detail’ and offer other multimedia options like videos with the artists and their biographies. Radio France has even provided a custom soundtrack to the tower on the website that includes ambient sounds of the building and neighborhood. Grab your headphones. Search Twitterverse, Instagramville and Facebooklandia for #tourparis13. I’ve put together a Storify of the social media side (with as good French translations as I can!) that I’ll be curating for the rest of the month! In September 2014, Thomas Lallier will release his documentary on the project.
Very recent goings-on in street art…
So, Banksy is holed up in New York City for a month, with promises of new art every day. Lots of folks are profiting, like this lucky bastard, a Chicago Man Unknowingly Purchased Four Original Banksy Pieces (Chicagoist). And then these guys who are charging passers by and visitors to take pictures of the Banksy work — which is on a public street — otherwise they’ll destroy it: