Thursday 30 September 2010

Something for the Weekend (1st – 3rd October)

Sleepless nights this weekend as the annual Nuit Blanche event returns to the city. If you need your sleep though, you’ll also find several other recommended (daytime!) events on the Paris Weekends blog.

Monday 27 September 2010

Take-Away Art

Street art comes in many shapes and forms, but few are as simple as the creations of an artist known as Liox. Operating at night, Liox wanders the streets, creating trails of sketches that stretch through the east of Paris.

Mon nom d'artiste est LIOX , je suis peintre et graphiste”, he says as way of introduction on his website. “Je colle dans la rue des dessins originaux offerts au bon vouloir des passants. Des dessins à redecoller et à s'accaparer... ou même s'ils ne plaisent décidément pas à déchirer, tagger, annoter” (I stick original sketches in the street, leaving them for whoever wants to take them. Drawings to grab and stick somewhere else…or if they really don’t please people, to rip, tag or write comments on).

The real name of the artist Liox is Lionel Andeler, but it seems a little pointless to dig any further into the identit(y)ies of a man who dresses as a woman. Concentrate on the art and the creations, this seems to suggest, and there is much to investigate. As an illustrator he has produced several children’s books (one of his declared heroes is Tomi Ungerer), and as an artist he has exhibited in France, Germany and Brazil, but for several years now he has also taken his art directly into the streets.

His signed sketches can be found attached to fences, signposts and walls across the city, generally “représentant…les symboles de la république sous une forme nouvelle, créative, atypique mais surtout porteuse d'un sens concis" (representing the symbols of the French republic in a new form, creative, atypical but above all with a concise signification). Recently, his primary target has been Marianne, the national emblem of France. In the two examples I found most recently, Marianne is first tired and haggard in ‘en retraite - in retirement’ (a comment on the proposed raising of retirement ages in France) and then crying (O larmes etc, a play on words with ‘aux armes’ from the French national anthem - particularly the Serge Gainsbourg version!).

Did I take them and are they collectable? I prefer the idea of the sketches staying in the street, questioning the passers by who stop to look at them, so I didn't take one, and collectability implies rarity, but Liox is in fact quite prolific. During the 2007 Nuit Blanche event, he created 2007 of the sketches that were hung in the town hall of the 4th arrondissement for visitors to take away. He later repeated the action during the 2008 Ateliers d’artistes de Belleville event, this time with hundreds of sketched angels.

Anyway, I’m sure that I will have other occasions to take away a piece of this art in the future. Despite having certain problems with the police in the past, he is unwavering in his desire to continue posing questions and to continue offering his drawings. As
he summarises on his website, "il y en a eu, il y en a, et il y en aura encore" .

You can see the artist in action in this interesting film:

Friday 24 September 2010

Something for the Weekend (24th – 26th September)

Something for everyone this weekend including literary festivals, secret gardens, artists studios, ethical fashion, loud music and a pyramid of shoes!

See the Paris Weekends blog for the full list of my recommendations.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

The Tall Tale of Sainte Odile

Within earshot of the noisy péripherique motorway and on the very limit of the city stands the tallest steeple in Paris. Why was the Sainte Odile church built here though, and what is its significance today?

The 1920s and 30s were a boom-time for church building in Paris and the surrounding region, with over 50 places of worship built on the territory during this period. Ostensibly the goal of this initiative, labelled ‘les chantiers du cardinal’ (Verdier), was to provide work for tradesmen in difficult times, but there was also certainly an almost missionary desire to bring religion to the rapidly developing suburbs and to its ‘godless’ people.

This was certainly true of the area in which Sainte Odile was built. In the 1920s, one priest, the Père Loutil, campaigned for the construction of a new church in the Champerret district, a place typical of the outskirts of the city. As he said later, "dans ces années, le quartier était composé d'ateliers de carrossiers, de tôliers, et de ce qu'on appelait la zone, surtout" (in those years, the district was made up of carriage makers, metal workers and above all what we called the zone).

We come back once again to the reconstruction of Paris’s city limits and the replacement of Thier’s fortifications. These areas, known as the zone, were ungoverned and slightly lawless, but were slowly being replaced by social housing, parks and sports facilities. In this part of Paris, the Père Loutil wanted to ensure that it would be a church replacing the ‘zone’.

Enough money was found in the parish to begin construction and a young architect, Jacques Barge, who was only 31 when he took on the job, was appointed. The project was to recreate a spirit of ancient christianity, based around a kind of roman/byzantine basilica. Modern materials, principally concrete, made this possible in what was a very tricky plot. Neighbours were positioned in very close proximity to the proposed strucutre, and one of them, the Ziegler family, only agreed to give up part of their land if no windows were built into the southern side of the church.

The structure is principally three coupoles and a 72 metre high clock tower. The decorative touches though are what set this church apart from many other built at the time and it features many remarkable examples of art deco inspired creations. The most remarkable of all are the stained glass windows (on the north side of the church!), but the carved entrance is also quite spectacular.

The Père Loutil was also a man who encouraged ‘spiritual’ art, and it was he who organised a group of like-minded artists to work together on the church. It seems that several of the families involved lived together on site whilst working, and it is even said that two children were born in the church!

The church was finally completed in 1953. Over the half-century since then the neighbourhood has seen many changes, and is today a comparitively wealthy one. Does it still serve the same purpose now that the area has gone upmarket? The church and its spire still dominate the surroundings, but on a typical week-day lunchtime it is far from being a hive of activity inside. I wander around the building in silence, completely alone, but it's a welcome change from the the roar of the motorway and bus interchange alongside. Perhaps this then is the role it plays today. A building which was constructed to bring a community together is now a site where people can escape from its constant buzz!

L'eglise Sainte Odile
2 Avenue Stéphane Mallarmé, 75017, M° Porte de Champerret

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Quiz: Where in Paris?

More on this place tomorrow, but in the meantime, can anyone guess where it is?

Sunday 19 September 2010

Random juxtapositions

Neighbours, strangers and unrelated concepts.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Something for the Weekend (17th – 19th September)

This weekend is all about the Journées du Patrimoine. Click here for my list of recommendations, as well as another couple of events if heritage really isn’t your thing.

Sunday 12 September 2010

Ghosts of a colonial past

The Jardin d'Agronomie Tropicale, in a remote corner of the Bois de Vincennes, is a ghostly setting, haunted by the spirits of France’s colonial past. The opposite of a typical French garden, it is instead disquieting in its wildness with only a few pathways kept clear of grasses, bushes and creeping branches.

These are not the gardens of a haunted house, but of a series of haunted houses. Nature has taken over now, winding its hands and fingers through a hamlet of crumbling buildings, but enough of the structures remain to give a blurred snapshot of what took place here before. This garden is the setting for a colonial exhibition from over 100 years ago, and a place that remained out of the public eye for most of the 20th century.

Today the public has free access to the gardens, but few people seem to visit. Being alone in this environment heightens the sensation of anxiety, leaving visitors to only guess at the reasons for the collapse and decay. Entrance is through a Chinese portico, the crumbling and fading red paint indicating the state of sights to come. From here you can follow a series of paths, all of which lead to ruined buildings, beheaded statues and mysterious, unexplained objects.

Research will tell you that these are the remains of the 1907 Exposition Coloniale, but signs explaining this in the garden are all sun-faded or have fallen down. What remains clear is that this is not an environment of which the authorities are particularly proud. Instead its decline can be seen as an interesting physical metaphor for French colonial politics.

The 1907 exhibition was based around several distinct villages representing all the corners of the French empire (Indochine, Madagascar, Congo, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco..). Inhabitants from these territories were also brought over to live in these villages and be ‘observed’ by curious visitors for the duration of the exhibition (May to October).

This curious show though was not the reason for which the gardens were first created. The initial objective was to conduct experiments and find ways to improve the cultivation of tropical plants and trees that would then be sent out for planting across the empire. The hothouses in the gardens were filled with exotic trees including coffee, cocoa, banana and vanilla, and attempts were also made to grow these plants outside on site. Even the hothouses today though have been taken over by nature run wild.

Situated in an open field on the site is another curiosity – a series of monuments to soldiers from the French colonies who died during the First World War. Seeing the words ‘
aux soldats noirs morts pour la France’ only exacerbates the feeling of unease. The colonies were (and in some instances still are) part of France, but their inhabitants were not French.

The city of Paris only took over ownership of the gardens in 2003, and only opened them up to the public again in 2006, but will the future of the site be? The buildings are today off limits, and it is very unlikely that they will ever be renovated, but there is a strong desire to ensure that they stay on site in some form. One building, the Indochine pavillion, is currently being refurbished and will function as a small museum and research centre. This seems like a very intelligent inititiative. We are not always proud of our history, but we should never hide it away.

The Jardin d'Agronomie Tropicale45 bis, avenue de la Belle-Gabrielle, 75012RER A: Nogent sur MarneLeave the station on the Avenue des Marronniers, then take the Avenue des Châtaigniers, the first turn on the right.

Friday 10 September 2010

World Suicide Prevention Day: SOS Help in Paris

The 10th September is World Suicide Prevention Day. To mark the event, here is a message from SOS Help, an English-speaking volunteer helpline in France. Their remit is far larger than simply dealing with the extremely desperate at critical moments, but if all those in a negative spiral found somebody to communicate with at an early stage, suicide figures would decline dramatically.

Feel like talking? SOS Help, an English speaking crisis line in France, is open from 3 pm to 11 pm daily. Call us up to talk about anything on your mind – from loneliness to stress to concerns about integrating into a new culture. We are here to listen! Call us at 01 46 21 46 46 or visit us online at for more information.

If you would like you sign up for our newsletter, you can do so on our website and get information about our fundraising events, volunteer opportunities and social events.

Lastly, we have book sales throughout the year where we sell English books (all in good condition) for really low prices. Our upcoming sale is on October 10th with paperbacks at only 1€ and hard covers at 2€.

SOS Help Book Sale
October 10th, 12 pm to 4 pm
Orrick Law Offices
31, avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie, 75016

Thursday 9 September 2010

Something for the Weekend (10th – 12th September)

Zapping, rapping, street art, socialism, sausages and a primal soup this weekend!

See the Paris Weekends blog for the full listings.

Monday 6 September 2010

Car Park Epitaphs

Another car park, another graveyard, another investment opportunity. The construction this time is more architectural nihilism than brutalist, but it is also closed and condemned, destined to become an impersonal block of offices and flats. A few pictures and words in memorial to another dead building.

Locked up and shut down, there will be no second life for this building. The 15th arrondissement went upmarket several years ago, and families don't need such anachronistic constructions. Today it is too massive, out of scale with the clean, minimalist lines sprouting up on the other industrial wastelands in the district.

Soon there will be a creche and social housing on the site. Worthy and necessary installations, surely in a polite and environmentally-friendly form to ensure that they don't disturb the neighbourhood. If the local residents miss anything it may be a place to park their car, and possibly the distinctive lettering on the facade. Is there no longer a place in the city though for the impressive and the imposing?

Here is a building that in its prime offered shelter to 600 cars. It would have seen the perpetual movement of vehicles ascending and descending, a mountain of motion and noise. Like most major cities today, Paris is chasing away the motor car and no longer wishes to see temples to its power situated within the city boundaries. As a non-driver, this is not something that affects me, but I am a little sad to see an end to significant car park architecture.

September 17th sees the return of Parking day. Rather than a celebration of the strange world of the car park it is in fact "an annual, worldwide event that inspires city dwellers everywhere to transform metered parking spots into temporary parks for the public good". It is an admirable initiative, but could it extended to a larger scale? Could buildings such as this one be transformed into spaces for the public good? If so, what possible uses could be found for them? I would certainly sponsor an initiative that looked into the issue!

Grand Garage de Paris, 218 Rue de la Croix Nivert

Other Invisible Paris car-parks that may interest you:
The Grand Garage Haussmann
Le Parking Bellefond

Thursday 2 September 2010

Something for the Weekend (3rd – 5th September)

If, like me, you are interested in architecture, history should find something in Paris to keep you busy this weekend.

Find my list of weekend recommendations on the Paris Weekends blog.
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