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Condemned Paris tower at cutting edge of street art

© Tour Paris 13

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2013-10-02

"Tour Paris 13" is billed as the biggest-ever collective street art exhibition, due to run throughout October and free to the public. The building housing the exhibition in eastern Paris will be demolished piece by piece in November.

Artists from the four corners of the world have breathed life and colour into a condemned Parisian high-rise, in a vast street art project housed in and around a building that will be demolished piece by artistic piece in November.

The “Tour Paris 13” exhibition (named after the 13th arrondissement, a district of eastern Paris) near the busy Gare d’Austerlitz train terminus and overlooking the River Seine, is the startling and lurid swan song of a doomed residence.

It is also, the organisers say, the biggest-ever street art collective, involving 80 artists from 16 countries.

Each of the building’s 36 apartments and outside walls, as well as the various nooks and corners of its dank basement, has been given over to one of the artists, known in their home countries and around the world by their street “noms de plume” – Btoy, Flip, Shoof, Stinkfish...

None of them has been paid, none of the art is for sale and by the beginning of November the project will be a mere memory in the rubble (its demolition, already carefully choreographed to reveal the interior artwork bit by bit, is billed as the climax of the exhibition).

Art is free

The facade of the building

It is free and open to the public until the end of October.

“Tour Paris 13” is the brainchild of artist Mehdi Ben Cheikh, founder of the nearby “Galerie Itinerrance” where he exhibits works of urban art.

While his gallery is a commercial venture, he insists that the message driving “La Tour 13” is that street art is free.

“This project is the embodiment of the ephemeral nature of street art,” he told FRANCE 24. “And while artists need to sell their work to make a living, street art is and should be free for everyone. Art inspired in and for the street, where it cannot last forever, has an extraordinary power.”

‘Everyone benefits’

Ben Cheikh’s project would never have seen the light of day without the extraordinary enthusiasm of the Mairie (town hall) of the 13th arrondissement, which for years has sponsored public spaces to showcase art around the district.

Antoine Boscher, “Tour Paris 13” project leader at the Mairie, is passionate about an exhibition he predicts will stamp this little-known corner of eastern Paris as an internationally-recognised mecca of street art.

“Everything is free and everyone benefits,” said the debonair civil servant, who despite his obvious relish for the project has little of "the street” about him.

The window in Shoof's apartment

“It promotes the work and generosity of these artists, it showcases our commitment to young people and to art, and it brings people to the 13th.”

‘A true public space’

“It is also a powerful statement to the world that there is a big difference between street art and vandalism,” added Boscher. “To avoid vandalism you have to promote and recognise the art.”

This, of course, is music to the ears of graffiti artists, whose chaotic trade so often lands them on the wrong side of the law.

“Shoof”, a Tunisian citizen based in Nantes in western France, was adding the finishing touches to his installation on the eighth floor, an apartment covered in daubings inspired by Arabic calligraphy.

“This is definitely an intelligent approach to street art,” he said, laughing happily as he daubed white paint through a syringe onto a black wall. “Even though this building is on the verge of being destroyed, it has become a living part of the 13th, a true public space.

“Local authorities around the world should take note. Every urbanism project should approach street art with the same sensitivity and enthusiasm.”

Date created : 2013-10-01

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