Sunday 4 March 2012

Murmurs of menace

Outside any consideration of the artistic merits of street art, what it does always give you is the pulse of a city. Faces may be closed and tongues tied, but the creations on the walls will always tell you the sentiments of its inhabitants.

Reading the walls of Paris today, you can't help feeling a vague sense of menace. It does not look or feel like a city held in the clenches of a financial crisis, but this is election year, and these are strange times in the city.

Near the Place du Colonel Fabien, where the French Communist party has its headquarters, the mysterious Zoo Project has temporarily moved away from his beasts and painted human forms. The slogan alongside these cyborgs brings a touch of nonsense to the scene - it's not always man exploiting man. Sometimes it's the opposite - but the message here is clear enough. No-one is innocent, everyone is to blame.

Beneath, a parasite has leeched onto the creation. One of the candidates at this year's presidential elections, from the far-left Lutte Ouvrière party, has attached a message of her own - workers should not pay for capitalism's crisis. Near to the Place de la République, another creation - or is it just a paint bomb - sends deep red fingers down towards a poster from the Front de Gauche urging voters to 'prendre le pouvoir' (seize power). The two seem to go perfectly together, but which came first? Are politicians now deliberately using street art to help get messages across?

Elsewhere, the messages are less political, but no less threatening. At the back of a small garden is a life-size cutout of a young girl. Deliberately or otherwise, this girl stands alongside the now closed Hopital Saint Lazare, an establishment that at various times in its history was a women's prison and the rounding up centre of the city's prostitutes. Probably the work of duo Leo & Pipo, she stands silent as a ghost, fixing and following with her eyes those who pass her by. 

Far noisier is the latest creation by Mère Moustache. A hommage to one of the most famous moustaches in recent history, that of Salvador Dali, it also brings the macabre to the city walls. The skeletal figure has dropped a bouquet of roses to the ground, but as they fall the petals are transformed, slowly forming a pool of blood at street level.

The ghoulish crown prince of surrealism seems to be smiling, so we can hope this is all just a joke. Menace may be in the air, but the majority of Parisians still see a future made of red roses rather than blood.


Philippa said...

Yesterday evening Norman and I went to a wonderful talk about Banksy and other street artists/graffiti artists, by a professor at the University of Toronto, Nick Mount. You would have loved it. He was looking at it from the art + vandalism point of view, rather than the political side of things, though. I've sent him a link to your blog, because I think you add an extra dimension to a fascinating subject.

Adam said...

Thanks Philippa.

I'm not sure there's always a political side to street art, but with elections looming here, it's interesting to see the art and the campaign posters side by side.

For me, the best street art (and I don't really like using the word 'art') communicates a message and is ephemeral (rather like the election posters, but preferably with more humour and without the hyperbole!)

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