Retreat of the Invaders: Paris’ artistic loss
Editor in Chief, Reece Parker, discusses why the theft of Paris’ most prominent street art is a loss for the city more than a gain for thieves.
The past month has seen numerous thefts of works by the street artist ‘Invader’, with Parisian streets being stripped of a large number of his mosaics. Invader has decorated walls worldwide since 1998, installing images created through the arrangement of coloured tiles on numerous city walls. These mosaics mimic the 8-bit style of classic video games, with many of his images replicating the enemy of the classic video game ‘Space Invader’, where he gets his namesake. Cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and Princess Peach also feature heavily.
Witnesses have seen suspected thieves disguised as council workers, removing the artworks whilst dressed in high-visibility clothing. After it was brought to their attention, Parisian officials have denied that they were involved with the individuals. On his website, Invader has described the thefts as ‘nonsensical and painful destruction’, adding that it is a ‘large number’ of pieces that have been lost. Perhaps most puzzlingly, these aren’t works which can easily be sold after stealing, as to remove the mosaic from the wall you have to destroy the piece. To repair it, you would have to invest in replacement tiles, or, depending on the degree of destruction, you may have to recreate the piece altogether. This seriously mitigates the potential to be sold for a profit.
If the pieces will not reach a high price on the black market, we must question why they are being stolen. Perhaps, those who are stealing the pieces want them to keep for themselves, as they would be in possession of both an iconic piece of street art history and of the Parisian cultural landscape. Yet this is perhaps the most upsetting piece of this robbery, that in removing these works from their public position they have not been stolen from Invader but from the city itself.
Invader’s works are integral to Paris’s identity, with over 1000 pieces in the city. Whilst many of them are images taken from pop-culture, some of the works directly comment on the heritage of the city, for example the pixelated recreation of the Mona Lisa which is placed opposite the Louvre, where the original piece is housed. Invader is himself acutely aware of how the work belongs to the city and its people, and this understanding of the role of his street art is implicated in his identity as an artist, or lack thereof.
Like many street artists, Invader has always sought to keep his true identity a secret, and has so far been successful. Where for many artists this is to escape possible legal repercussions from local authorities which aren’t supportive of their artistic aims, for Invader this isn’t needed. Firstly, his style of art is so innocent and playful that authorities would seek to prosecute him in the same way that they would for a standard tagger. Moreover, his works are so famous and adored by local residences, as well as bringing in large amounts of tourist revenue, that it would be a PR disaster to arrest him if his identity was ever compromised. The reason that Invader chooses to remain anonymous is that by distancing his art from a distinguishable identity – where his identity and ownership fades, it is replaced the meaning the public places on his work. The works become a part of the city in which they are installed, and gain precedence due to the relationship that the city and its people have with the work.
This ideology informs all of Invader’s work. He has spoken about choosing to install his works in public spaces rather than galleries so they are accessible to all, and decides the sites for installation according to their visibility and value to the local community. Invader often places numerous pieces across a city over a fortnightly period, in what he has termed ‘invasions’. When he does this, the subject matter of his pieces are adapted and themed by the context of the city. Sites near banks often feature dollar sign mosaics, whilst all his works in Hong-Kong have a distinct oriental theme. Once he’s finished an invasion, he prints and distributes ‘invasion maps’, which notify residents and visitors of where his pieces are. Fitting with his playful nature, the locations he chose in Montpellier formed an image of a Space Invader when viewed on the map. Clearly, for artists such as Invader, the work is more owned by the city and it’s people than by himself. This is why these robberies are so troubling, they are an attack on the culture of Paris, much more damaging than theft from an individual or company.
(Image courtesy of Space-Invader.com)