The Shocks of the New (apologies to Robert Hughes)
It’s always pleasant to be able to revisit places for street art and to be able to see, over the years, how favourite artists are evolving (hopefully). As mentioned in the last post, I was able to see a show by Miss.Tic, an artist whose work I’ve enjoyed for many years. I also went back to several locations that had featured a lot of street artworks in the past – around Belleville, for example, or in parts of the Marais, or near the Canal St Martin – and was rewarded by some interesting new works. here are some of them…..
And some artists whose work I had seen in Berlin in 2010 (Prost, Alias and others) seem to have been visiting recently, and they have put work up, in clusters, all around different parts of Paris:
Every new discovery brings with it a little jolt of pleasure. To walk around a corner and see a beautifully constructed artwork, or to catch a glimpse of something high up on the rooftops – anyone who appreciates street art will be well acquainted with these experiences. But ‘newness’ can also bring shocks that are not quite so pleasurable. For example, as I mentioned, I went to Belleville, a hilly, hectically multicultural part of Paris that is home to Paris Free Walls in the rue Denoyez (which feels rather like Hosier Lane, for anyone reading this in Melbourne). Paris Free Walls organises walls for artists to paint and collaborate on. Here’s a great one, featuring the work of Dode Shillinglaw and Ben Slow on rue Amelot:
Belleville is also close to Le Mur (The Wall), the curated ex-billboard space that features a regular turnover of artists, some well-known, some new.
Here’s what was on Le Mur when I went to see it:
Sounds all good, right? Spaces with a regular turnover of work, some legal, some illegal, street art happily existing within a local community….
And, yes, that’s so, except that when I went to see La Forge, an area that had housed the studios of some fantastic street artists and had displayed some amazing work within its spaces, it was clear that nothing should be taken for granted when street art is concerned (something that I do know, but had forgotten). Two years ago, I visited La Forge, and spent a fascinating few hours with Jean Faucheur and with L’Atlas, both really interesting artists. On this occasion, the gate appeared locked, there was no sign of any access to the studios, and the open space at the front looked semi-derelict, with a whole row of cars parked in it. In addition, there was this:
This is a ‘Permet de Construire’ (Construction Permit), indicating that the site is to be developed. Well, if the housing that results provides accommodation for people in need, then all well and good, I guess. But I;m not sure it will – my suspicion is rather that this is one instance of a dynamic we have seen in cities many times before (Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Fitzroy in Melbourne, the East End of London). Street art is part of what establishes an area as an interesting, vibrant district; gentrification ensues. There’s a vast amount of academic literature on gentrification (and the connection between it and street art is one of the issues my new research will study), but it’s summed up nicely by this stencil, seen when I was in Stokes Croft (an area clearly on the verge of gentrification) in Bristol the other week…
Nothing stays the same on the street; that’s part of its pleasures (unlike museums, which exist more to preserve, or freeze, culture). But sometimes the newness brings little chills with it, especially those moments when you imagine you can see a whole neighbourhood beginning to change. Given that street art is associated as much with rising rents, the exclusion of artists who can’t pay those rising rents, merchandising, ‘hipsterdom’, and commerce as it is with any kind of pure creativity (if such a thing exists), then these moments, imaginary or not, should give us pause.