Tour Paris 13 is an old crumbling residential tower in Paris’ 13th arrondissement marked for demolition in less than a month. It’s also, for that remaining time, allegedly the biggest collective street art project realised to date. Over 100 artists, coming from 16 different countries, were invited to use the 9-floor, 36-apartment tower as their canvas – from the basement to the facade and every single inch of the floors, walls and ceilings.
The art is as real as it gets and visiting the tower is free as long as it’s still standing, in small groups of 49 people maximum at a time for safety reasons. So what’s virtual about it? How we can experience it.
While the artists were working inside the tower, the project was kept under wraps and extensively filmed by Thomas Lallier – in preparation for a documentary – and audio recorded by French public service Radio France (well known for their excellent ‘création radiophonique’, or radio art), to create an immersive digital experience.
When ‘visiting’ an apartment, a collage of user-generated images scrolls across the screen, revealing the space by fragments, and the voices of the artists at work raise above the ‘soundtrack’: traffic, sirens, footsteps echoing in these empty spaces, doors creaking, phones ringing, and the sound of the spray can, with that clicking of the shaking and phrasing of the breathing, in long lines and short bursts.
The project was spearheaded by Galerie Itinerrance, a local gallery specialised in street art. It’s not the first time that it spills out of the walls: as well as representing artists and showing their work, gallery owner Mehdi Ben Cheikh has been offering ‘official’ outdoor tours to discover large-scale murals in the neighbourhood (presumably commissioned). In an interview available on the Tour Paris 13 website (with English subtitles), he talks about his remit, as a street art gallerist, to have an ‘urban practice’. He also tries to describe the tower project:
I don’t like the word exhibition. It’s something a bit strange… It’s not a museum, it’s not a gallery, it’s not a wasteland neither, it’s not a squat… It’s a mix of all of these. It’s something more or less organised, but that still has a soul.
He also talks about the role of the internet – and therefore of digital experiences such as the tower’s – in making street art “the first truly international movement”.
After 31st October, the Tour will be closed to the public, but the website will remain accessible. During the following 10 days, virtual visitors will be asked to ‘save’ the art by clicking on what they want to keep, pixel by pixel. The resulting archive will become a ‘witness’ of the artistic project.
Finally, the 52-minute documentary that will be released in September 2014 will reveal the creative process of the artists involved, but also the history of the tower itself and of the neighbourhood, pre- and post-urban renewal.
All photos are from Tour Paris 13‘s website; click on images to access the artists’ individual photo gallery, interview and biography.