Tour Treize is a fascinating site: towering over the Quai de Muriac on Paris' Left Bank, it is a covered in neon orange paint and a large banner showing the Statue of Liberty (that it is the statue of liberty, and not France's lady liberty, I deduce from the english comments handwritten within the banner, referencing locations like Stuyvetson, the Bronx, Staten Island, and so forth). The project is only open during the month of October, after which both the building and the online archive will be destroyed.
Early in 2013 a tower in the 13th arrondissement was slated to be destroyed. Given the history of street artists living in the building Gallery Itinerrance intervened, (spearheaded by Gallery Itinerrance director, Mehdi Ben Cheikh) and working secretly with the Mairie of the 13th, and the owner of the building ICF Habitat la Sabilière, a hundred street artists from across the globe were contacted to become involved in a project that was free to the public, open to the all, and entirely non commercial. Each artist was given their own space to transform from floor to ceiling. The resulting collaboration involved artists from 16 different nationalities. The resulting project is the largest street art exposition in the world, with over 4,500 square meters of art spanning 9 floors and 36 apartment units. The physical site is only open to the public from October 1st to October 31st.
The author of documentary and website, Thomas Lallier, remarked after his first visit: "After the first visit...I asked myself...why had I not noticed this little building before? Without a doubt it is because it is situated in an area that one, in general, would not [deliberately] pass by. It is not antique, nor particularly striking...Six months later this building has become a sort of attraction: passersby stop to take photos, and its visual attraction holds a sort of mystery...because of these artists, I have re-experienced my fascination with urban space, the sense of curiousity that takes hold of you when you stand in a strange hallway...this transmedia project...is detached from the constraints of continuity. A creative view is made visible, but in the fragile, reactive, and ephemeral character of art in situ..."
After Tour Treize closes its doors, the website will still be available, but only for 10 days. The organizers urge viewers "click by click, pixel by pixel, to save Tour Treize!"The rationale for even an ephemeral website is that "given the urgency and ephemerality of street art [as a movement] this is all that can [or should] be saved." A 52 minute documentary has also been created (starting in March 2013) recording the artistic work behind the exposition by Thomas Lallier.
I hope to write a longer form manuscript about this project, but for now, I will recount some elements of my visit, and a few of the many pieces that really pulled me.
The line for Tour Treize by 10:00am winds all the way around a city block. On average, it inches forward perhaps an eighth of a block every hour. If one is more than a block from the entrance, it is entirely likely that the way will be upwards of 7 hours, or even futile.
The gallery security put up signs to that effect:
Waiting, then, to see Tour Treize is the quantitative majority of one's experience. I tried three times to see the building. The first day I arrived a little before 1 pm, on a drizzly cold day, and took my place in line a block and a half from the entrance. After waiting an hour with no movement, I had to leave for an appointment. I returned again at 10:00am on the 22nd of October, and persevered for four hours. This time I began 2 and a half blocks from the entrance, in fact, diagonal from the entrance, which I could sadly watch through the gates around a courtyard. The line is an amorphous, smelly, vivacious entity. Filled with people from age 7 to 60 it pulsates and simmers, surges and dissapates. Veterans of Paris cultural events bring foldable chairs or stools, thermoses of coffee, and many friends so that turns can be taken for bathroom breaks and walks. On my second visit I was behind a cluster of art students who sat blissfully drawing and smoking before sneaking ahead into a part of the line closer to the entrance. A few hours in, the typical unspoken urban barriers for conversation erode as smiles and sighs of frustration are shared, sometimes people chat about their previous attempts to get in the exhibit, and finally, when the end is in sight, we utter cheers every time someone exits the building, counting heads.
The visit felt more like a kind of alternate universe, a suspended space of expectation and determination, where sore lower backs, knees, feet, and shoulders are ignored by dreaming of the art inside. Such fantasies are sparked by the more garrulous who, as they exit, say "It was just, wow!" and "Bon courage!" Arriving at 7:30 a.m. last Wednesday, armed with a book that I had put off reading for over a year, croissant, cake, lentils, and an apple, I took my place in line, literally running across the Pont de Bercy lit by dim streetlights and a fully moon. I began only three quarters of a block from the entrance. Of course, arriving at 7:30, I knew I was in for a wait, since the building did not open until 10:00, after the line contracted and places seemed relatively set, I, and everyone around me, took a seat on the ground. Someone who had done a head count announced "200 people in front of us!" I resigned myself to being kicked by the elder gentleman to my left who seemed to have no sense of spatial awareness, and entertained myself by occassionally looking to see the every-lengthening line. This period of waiting is peaceful. Without any movement, there is not attempt to "get one over" on other line-members by moving faster, or slipping ahead. Instead, my fellow line dwellers unpacked breakfasts, quietly listened to music, or sat with eyes closed. As the sky became lighter we rose to our feet and began the long work of intentional waiting. Six hours later, I had made it to the front. There was an air of intimacy that had been cultivated between myself and the four other people in my immediate vicinity. We smiled and cheered, and wished each other well, later sharing conspiratorial glances as we walked through the exhibit.
At 2:00 pm I stumbled into the dark building, and followed arrow marks painted onto the floor into a room that had a map of Syria on the floor, and paint cans covered in navy-green with little wings attached that appeared as a cluster of bombs over the map.
After taking the cramped elevator to the 9th floor, where a guard told us "Try to keep to 10 minutes a floor" I tried to efficiently move through each room, taking photos, and taking in the overwhelming array of images.
"Street art" is a funny label that purports to be a genre. If anything, the work at Tour Treize illuminated the astonishing range and diversity of "street art," as such. From installation work, to light sculptures, to paper architecture, painted walls, photographs, and wooden sculpture, the rooms in the tower were complete transformed to create a total sensorial experience.
|ReaOne. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|
C215 is a relatively recent artist, but is world-renknowned. In the short film, Five More Minutes with C215 he recounts that his art is a way for him to have connections with a world that he doesn't easily emotionally cathect with. His aesthetic: stencils that are layered with a hand-drawn sketch style and rendered full of energy and movement through the use of flourescent and brightly colored lines. His work can be found all over Paris, often appearing on public electricity boxes, mailboxes, and signs.
|C215, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|
This piece by Stinkfish, from Mexico, offers a portrait of Zapata where windows in the building become Zapata's eyes, filling the room with filtered light through the figure's gaze.
|Stinkfish. Mexico. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|
Dan23's work from France with vibrant, photorealist images, offers a good paradigmatic case for a prevalent difference between American and European graffiti styles. Whereas the former is still focused on lettering and the name, the latter traffics more heavily in the figurative and representational.
|Dan23, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce.|
Faces, however, could also be haunting. David Walker's pieces uses black, white, and greyscale large format portraits and contrasts them with colorful objects, creating a melodramatic and moving rendering of human expression.
|David Walker, UK. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|
|Mario Belem, Portugal. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce|
|Pantonio, Portugal. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|
|Katre, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce.|
|Dabro, Tunisia. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|
|Inti Castro, Chile. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|
|Loiola, Brazil. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce.|
There are a number of literary references in the building, with carefully curated bookshelves featuring texts by Francois Mitterand (perhaps a gesture to the BnF Mitterand down the street), and also a piece by Speto in a kitchen where the door screamed: "Nietzsche lived in this room!" Perhaps also another reference to the role the building played as a home for artists, or an ironic reference to the lack of celebrity afforded to the space before the Tour Treize project.
|Speto, Brazil. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|
|Hopnn, Italy. Photo credit: caitlin bruce|
|Lek and Sowat, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|