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Interview with Mathieu Tremblin

Mathieu Tremblin interview by street art paris dI4KLLTag Clouds “Rue Jules Ferry,” 2012, Arles

Originally from Le Mans, Mathieu Tremblin works in Strasbourg on multi-dimensional pieces that are sometimes subtly satirical and other times blatantly candid. With an approach to the city linked to sixties libertarian texts, Visual Studies, and French Theory, Mathieu Tremblin develops humorous and subtle artistic gestures, actions and interventions for an audience of passersby. In this interview Mathieu discusses the relationship between public ownership, the power of art and the urban context.

Mathieu Tremblin interview by street art paris 2015_globalcolorlocalmarket_marseille_mathieutremblin_img_0571Global Color, Local Market, 2015, Marseille

Mathieu Tremblin interview by street art paris 2010_OUVERT24H24_TOULOUSE_MATHIEUTREMBLIN_1007632 copyOuvert 24H/24 (OPEN 24 HOURS A DAY), 2010, Toulouse

How did you begin making urban interventions?

When I arrived in Rennes to study in 1998, I met a poet, Stéphane Bernard, who soon became the big brother I never had, and we shared a lot of thoughts on the society that we lived in. At that time, he was a very dark person because of having grown up in an average French city during the 80s, the type of city where there is nothing to do when you’re a teenager. I found myself in him, having myself lived in a small town as a teenager in the 90s. He introduced me to the Cold Wave, No Wave and industrial, electronic and experimental music with iconic figures like Alan Vega and Genesis P-Orridge. He introduced me to a number of American authors, such as, Bret Easton Ellis, Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon, as well as different theorists who had spared a radical critique of consumer and communication society, such as Guy Debord and his book, The Society of Spectacle.

Mathieu Tremblin interview by street art paris 2013_VANILLAURBANFURNITURE_DOCUMENTATION_TOULOUSE_MATHIEUTREMBLIN_IMG_6459 copyVanilla Urban Furniture, 2013, Toulouse

Mathieu Tremblin interview by street art paris 2016_streetartevaluation_documentation_lisboa_mathieutremblin_img_20160514_115029 Street Art Evaluation, “What is commissioned Street Art the name of?”, 2016, Lisbon

Debord’s approach is unique in that it does not summarize his criticism to a fight between classes, like other political philosophers have been doing before him, but he tackles economic relationships in the world it – what he calls Spectacle. Spectacle is a filter – representation – that keeps us away from ourselves and from others, that is taking us away from our experiences and our real desires and replacing those by the ones created by the consumer society that we can not access by proxy. From this analysis, he tried with his colleagues of the Lettrists then the Situationists in the sixties to implement methods that go beyond art, towards practices such as dérive or détournement that can permit you to live intensely and overcome the false relationship to the world that the society is building. These theories and operational concepts have greatly influenced my look at and my practice in the city, for example through the will that I share with other artists to produce forms that are already there, which are not recognizable as art . It’s a way to increase the life and transform our world, contributing to an urban imaginary that goes beyond appearances produced by consumer society.

Mathieu Tremblin interview by street art paris 0-zpesHypertag “Cli,” 2012, Arles

When I was a teenager, I refused to join the ideal promoted by the mass media and the consumer society. I felt agressed and oppressed by the system and I was looking for other reading grids. The art class I was following in high school gave me some answers with an introduction to the artistic avant-gardes of the twentieth century as Dada and Fluxus to whom art was making life more interesting than art itself. In 1996, I stopped watching TV with the discovery of the Internet. My father had installed a modem at home using the connection of the university where he worked. I discovered a horizontal network with HTML homemade websites and discussions with strangers living in Europe on IRC; I had access to a knowledge of the world without the filter of the mass media and it definitely changed my view on the relationship between art, culture and society at the same time.

Mathieu Tremblin interview by street art paris 2013_DROITDEGLANAGE_DOCUMENTATION_ARLES_MATHIEUTREMBLIN_IMG_7719 copyMathieu Tremblin interview by street art paris 2013_DROITDEGLANAGE_DOCUMENTATION_ARLES_MATHIEUTREMBLIN_IMG_7728 copyDroit de Glanage, 2013, Arles

Then I met TETAR, JIEM and MOOTON, who were doing graffiti and who were in my class. I did urban exploration with them – the industrial heritage in ruins fascinated me – and at one point I saw the pleasure they felt in doing graffiti and I got into it. This corresponded to a parallel path with my readings including La théorie de la dérive by the Situationists. The text discusses the idea of going out of your daily routine and find a way to make your life adventurous. Writing graffiti and especially tagging seemed a way to live an adventurous experience in the city; doing graffiti brings you to search spots to paint, so to discover new places and explore urban environment in a playful way regarding its architecture. By changing scale of practice and apprehending the material of various surfaces with your tools, you are gaining pragmatic and experimental unexpected perception of how the city works.

Mathieu Tremblin interview by street art paris 2011_FRUITSSKEWER_DOCUMENTATION_NIJMEGEN_MATHIEUTREMBLIN_DSC_3049 copy

Fruits Skewer, 2011, Nijmegen

When JIEM came back from Berlin in 2003, graffiti he had seen and photographed completely changed his reading of the urban landscape; now he had to focus on the walls that Berlin writers were investing with acrylic jars, rollers and telescopic poles. So we started to invest the giant walls of wasteland and abandoned factories in Rennes with rolls, changing of name all the time, until no longer we weren’t doing name writing at all and just write words and slogans. In 2006, we acted under the pseudonym of Poetic Roller during a few months and painted a couple of poetic phrases by night in dialogue with the atmosphere of the places. Then David Renault and I  founded the duo Les Frères Ripoulain and we painted slogans at a body scale during the day for two years dressed as house painters – without asking permission. We realized it was easier to intervene without authorization while legitimizing our approach in the dialogue with passerby, than doing it by night where our activities would ultimately looked suspicious, and the only exchange that we could get would be with the police or private security services that were just committed to ensure that nothing happens in the places they were responsible of. Then after we had painted the places on which we wanted to spread typographic frescoes about underground history, we changed once again of medium and method and since then adopted existing forms according to the urban situation we wanted to interact with, or depending of the influence we wanted to produce on the urban imaginary.

How do you develop your interventions?

I make sure that my practice is a pretext to live a new experience and conversely that every experience or observation in the city could lead to a gesture. I watch the rhythm of the city, the way people and signs interact and produce a kind of aesthetics in a cycle of appearance and disappearance. These forms are related to what is present and what is happening in the street. Sometimes they also refer to the history of art. When I work independently, this gesture correspond to an exercise of freedom, a sign that has an existence by and for itself; when I’m commissioned, I ensure that my intervention is likely to attract the attention of passersby whom it is addressed. But I work mostly without permission even if I am not looking for provocation… or legality. I try to act with maximum transparency and horizontality to dissolve the authority including the one of the author regarding his own gesture. While I’m inspired by anonymous graffiti found in the city that I consider as forms of interest, who would I be to claim that my act of painting on a wall will be greater or more relevant than the one that a citizen would have done without artistic intent? This is a balance between your personal wishes, the expression of your fellow citizens facing public and private governance of the city.

Mathieu Tremblin interview by street art paris 2016_liberteegalitesoldes_documentation_strasbourg_mathieutremblin_img_1832 Liberté Égalité Soldes, 2016, Strasbourg

Can you tell us about your relation to public/private ownership regarding the fact of doing art in the city?

For two decades now, successive French governments scuttled utilities and gradually municipalities allowed private companies the operational management of the city. The logical consequence of this fact is that the governance of the city has mutated from a horizon that was the common interest, to the profitability. And unfortunately, we cannot blame private companies to manage things in an ownership oriented way. Public transport became overpriced, whole portions of streets are managed as shopping malls, private security services are granted a power that only the police had previously… The citizen is increasingly considered and reduced to a consumer in the sense that it becomes difficult to practice the city in a financially disinterested manner. Public places – supposedly reminiscent of the figure of the agora in democracy – are mineralized and the rare street furniture are conceived so that it is uncomfortable, even impossible to occupy the public square. This creates paradoxical situations, such as the SNCF (French railway company which is now mostly private), which opens spaces which it owns and do an open-call without any budget for motivated artists, while the same company ensures that those who already invest those places without permission for years (free parties organizers and graffiti among others) can no longer practice it. While the Internet has allowed for the emergence citizens tremendous collaborative initiatives, horizontal and open to free sharing online, technocrats currently governing are vassals of corporate lobbies and tend to turn the city, our common living ground, into an area of ​​control and surveillance.

Mathieu Tremblin interview by street art paris 2011_ATRAPFORKINGS_ARLES_MATHIEUTREMBLIN_1101203 copyA Trap for Kings, 2011, Arles

Private ownership has become the cornerstone of our society and it alienates all desires and human relationships. The sharing relationship that seems to me  as close as an alternative type of relationship is the one you could develop with a work of art. His own is that the work cannot be exhausted after being consumed culturally. In a way, it’s escaping to planned obsolescence which is the essential condition for the capitalist economy to be wealthy. I’m not talking about the work of art as an object but as concept: on the contrary, works of art contain in themselves sensations and ideas – that belong to everybody – and a  power of transformation of imaginary – which everyone can experience – and that can not be reduced or enslaved by individual property. The interest is of my point of view the urban intervention holds that character otherwise immateriality, temporality. The destruction predictable near horizon – as dependent on the vagaries of the good / malicious passersby, of the rigor of cleaning service or of the urban renewal plans – gives it a form of intensity. What is rare is not the work as an artifact (as it was the case with the works of art in the modern period) but the fact of being able to experience a situation.

Mathieu Tremblin interview by street art paris 2012_TRACTS_PARIS_MATHIEUTREMBLIN_IMG_8137 copyTracts, 2012, Paris

What is the power of art to you?

An emancipatory principles of art could be described as an initiatory journey that always tends to put our comfort zones in crisis. Child, I was interested by Picasso for his deconstruction of the rules of representation, perspective or anatomy. Teenager, I went away from Picasso to focus on the hallucinatory world of Dali inspired by dreams and carried by the surrealist thought. Then adult, I detached myself from modern painting to go towards more conceptual and experimental approaches; I have kept Magritte’s univers whose graphic compositions by bonding or temporality of perspective are closer to an everyday poetic and is still inspiring me. A discovery of a field of art brings a gesture that brings you to question the certainties that have motivated that gesture. It’s the transformative power of art that matters. Discovering a work forces you to bend your mind and project yourself into the perception of someone else, in order to experience a new sensibility – in a way that it is otherness – with a horizon to achieve: to go beyond the definition art in order to return to life and to be intensely present to the world.

Mathieu Tremblin interview by street art paris 2014_PARKINGTICKETBOUQUET_MONTPELLIER_MATHIEUTREMBLIN_IMG_5248 copy

Mathieu Tremblin interview by street art paris 2014_PARKINGTICKETBOUQUET_MONTPELLIER_MATHIEUTREMBLIN_IMG_7858 copyParking Tickets Bouquet, 2014, Montpellier

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All images by Mathieu Tremblin

More informations about Mathieu Tremblin: Facebook  and website.

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Interview: May 2015.

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Interview with Levalet

Levalet Street art Paris

Born in the Lorraine region of East France, 27-year-old Levalet takes advantage of Paris’ architecture, combining his knowledge of theatre and painting especially, with a keen eye for topography, to produce site-specific scenes painted with Indian ink. Here, he talks about what makes his work possible, his artistic background, the legality of making street art in Paris, and places he likes putting up work.

Tell us about your works, what are your main themes and influences? 

I don’t know if we can talk about any main themes in my works, I work on staging each piece uniquely. My influences are numerous: theatre, film, plastic arts, comics. Afterwards, I contextualise it with the environment which affects the iconography of my scenes. Most of the time I rely on situations inspired by everyday life, and always a bit out of sync with reality.

Levalet Street art ParisLevalet pastes up in Paris’ ancient Latin Quarter in the 5th Arrondissement.

Where and when did you put up your first street piece?

I started painting on walls when I was thirteen or fourteen, in Guadeloupe, but it was more for fun and the for rush of adrenalin than for an artistic goal. When I was 17, I moved to Strasbourg, and there the walls are so clean and so historic that almost nobody wants to work on them, but I was working on video installations, and I was able to experiment with projections in urban places. But it was when I arrived in Paris in 2012 that I truly started to work as a street artist, inspired by the architecture and this feeling of freedom you can feel in the capital here.

What prompts you to paint work in the street?

The street is a place where I can work freely, I don’t have financial or time pressures. And this is mostly about besieging public places, everyday places, and being able to put up work that creates a dialogue with the real world. I like the idea of trying to combine several realities, using the world as a medium, and as a guide for representation, positioning the artistic image, in a place that was not meant for it in the first place.

How important is the architecture to your work? 

Topography is very important for me, this is why I always check a place out before I work on it. I try to mix the world of representation with the real world by playing on the physical cohesion of the situations I put up. Architecture supports my work. Then I work on staging the artwork with photographs. Photography allows me to play with the point of view and to intensify the “window-dressing” dimension of my work. Photography also allows me to create a dramatisation within the dramatisation by a including passer-by or other elements.

Tell us a little about your artistic background and how and why you got into street art? 

I started studying plastic arts when I was 17 and tried different media, paint, photography, video, sculpture, and today I am an art teacher, but as I said earlier, I have numerous influences and for example, acting influenced my work a lot. We can say that I came to street art more by transposing an installation practice than by a “classical” way, such as starting with graffiti and later getting involving graphic design.

Levalet Street art Paris An onlooker enjoys Levalet’s street art performance which even the police tend not to mind, he says.Levalet Street art Paris Levalet Street art Paris  Levalet tirelessly brushes out air bubbles and wrinkles from his pasted paper artwork.

You live in 13th Arrondissement, what do you like about putting work up locally?

I sometimes work in my neighbourhood, not often but regularly. I sometimes like being able to follow a work’s life, how it is transformed, how other artists can change it or destroy it. It is also more convenient for me as it is the only neighbourhood in Paris where I can put up my works legally without having them cleaned off, thanks to the town hall and its policy of including urban arts in the neighbourhood’s identity.

What factors do you consider when deciding on a location?

I’m relatively attentive to places whenever I’m outside, and when chance puts me in front of an interesting place, I take a picture and I measure it. Everything is potentially interesting, a spot on a concrete bloc, a crack, a recess, a piece of urban furniture. Whether I use a place I spotted or not depends on the projects I create day-by-day. There are some places I’ve spotted that will probably never be used, and sometimes one year can pass between the moment I spotted a place (I write it in my notebook) and the moment I use it. When I willingly look for a place, meaning when I walk by neighbourhoods only for that purpose, I first go to the small alleys, the hidden places, the unusual neighbourhood, and I avoid the big boulevards.

Levalet Street art Paris Levalet Street art Paris

Can you describe a route you’ve taken in the past, or an everyday route, and describe the details.

I think what I like most is walking by the different rivers in Paris, “les quais de Seine”, “canal Saint Martin”, “Canal de l’Ourcq”. Rivers always offer architecture and spaces that seem completely different from a big city such as Paris. I like these places because they inspire surrealist ideas in me easily. Being close to a river, in one way, gives me the illusion that I am still connected with the rest of the world.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced putting up a piece on the streets? 

Two months ago, I put up a sketch on La Comédie Française. There were ten policemen twenty metres away. They did not see me that time, but every time I’ve been caught, I’ve always been let off, and sometimes they’re amused. I can’t complain. I don’t really feel the police as a challenge. A bigger challenge is for me to start a project in which I try new things, because before the end, I am never one hundred per cent certain of the result. Half of the time I need to change my projects because I realise that, for example, the sketch is too big for the wall or an object can’t be fixed with nails.

What are your plans for 2015?

I have a few group exhibitions planned in Paris, an exhibition and two festivals in Italy and mostly I want to do unpredictable things. I have a few indoors installation projects planned, but for now nothing is really decided.

Levalet Street art Paris Detail from Levalet’s latest scene in the Latin Quarter.

Photos of Levalet’s previous installations:Levalet Paris15 minutes of fame. Photo by Charles Levalet, 2014.Levalet Paris Rhizomes exhibition, Home street home, Montpellier. Photo by Charles Levalet, 2014.Levalet Street art ParisIconoclasme. Photo by Charles Levalet, 2013. Levalet Street art ParisLa machine infernale. Photo by Charles Levalet, 2014.

Levalet Street art ParisUne bouffée d’air frais. Photo by Charles Levalet, 2013.

Levalet Street art Paris   Comédie française. Photo by Charles Levalet, 2014.

Levalet Street art ParisEnvolée sauvage. Photo by Charles Levalet, 2014.

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Visit Levalet’s Facebook page, here.

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C215 finds truth, beauty, and freedom abroad

C215 stencil art Colombo-streets-in-Sri-LankaC215 stencil portrait in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Christian Guémy travels to bring his work to environments that remain virgin and pristine, meaning they haven’t become trendy hubs of street art culture. We discovered that he’s quick to dismiss a few obvious ones, like New York or London, but it’s his criticism of Paris, that really resonates. Calling in from Sri Lanka, we got the straight talk on what drives this artist off the beaten track.

The resentment that has propelled Guémy out of his own city is situated in what he describes as the ‘trendy scene’, where graffiti and street art have been transformed into something fashionable, and who can blame him? Despite the fact that Guémy is no little-league player — he’s certainly been around the block a few times — he stays remarkably faithful to the original sentiments characteristic of May ’68, a date attributed with the birth of street art in Paris:

C215 street art Rome photo copyright c215Rome

In a historic moment of true social upheaval, students and workers went on strike together, unified under a critique of capitalist society and all it unraveled. This subsequently informed a street art movement and a generation of artists concerned with freedom of speech and personal expression.

In this light, Guémy’s global mission to get his intricate stencil work up in cities everywhere brings with it commendable altruistic appeal; his creative drive knows no boundaries, physical or otherwise. His work is passionate and meaningful, not to mention visually stunning, but the real intrigue lies in the intent behind the action.

It’s quickly clear that Guémy isn’t simply bringing his work to new locations, but is actually out spreading the gospel; that is, the almighty street dogma of personal virtue and integrity. In a constant rejection of the potential corruption that commercial success may entail, this artist seeks new territory in an effort to stay true to the art form, and to his unshakable sense of self.

The word C215 repeats the most is ‘freedom’, which, if psychoanalysis has anything to tell us, is suggestive of at least some level of personal complex:

His constant preoccupation with those he never blatantly labels as sell-outs or fashion-victims (and yet the implication is clear) suggests an inner tension. Especially when indirectly pitted against his own projected cred— “this is a lifestyle, fashion or not”… “some say I’m fashionable, some say I’m not, personally I don’t care” — C215 reveals a vulnerable underbelly, perhaps denoting a struggle with similar issues.

The question at hand though is whether this hang-up on ‘freedom’ has to do with a perceived insufficiency-of or a carousal-in.

c215 street art haiti Photo: copyright c215Haiti

This determination to remain free from constraint or imposition is the result of a calamity that is currently running deep in street and graffiti culture. Artists increasingly gain fame and success through institutional recognition, as opposed to overcoming the realities of creating (illegal) art in the streets. As a tribulation that is clearly here to stay, this happening represents a delicate area for artists like C215.

When questioned about the personal versus commercial nature of his work, Guémy is visibly irritated: at first he quickly snips “this isn’t advertising” defending the candor of his work, and revealing how close the association between commercial success and total implosion is for him. But in the next breath, perhaps realizing the futility of denying the list of gallery exhibitions and painting sales trailing his name, he suddenly becomes reflective, gently acknowledging this contradiction with the quiet concession, “we all have a job”.

In the headstrong and yet impulsively wavering nature that I have come to assume are simply part of Guémy’s character, he quickly retracts any inadvertent admission, drastically switching his tone and returning to the critical stance he holds against those who are “all about the exposure”. Not surprisingly he goes back to throwing some serious shade on the cities that, in his own words, have since lost their potential for any real experimentation. He underscores the fact that he is currently half-way across the globe, in an effort to live and work by his principles.

C215 street art Tunisia Djerbahood - Galerie Itinerrance - Photo: copyright 2014 C215Djerbahood, Tunisia

Guémy’s main issue and concern is that the spirit of his work remain ‘true’, by which he insinuates free from commercial, spectacle, or otherwise generally frowned-upon sanctioning. He is rebelling against an invisible compromising force, embodied (at least for him) in the ever-increasing popularity of the movement. Freedom to Guémy clearly means total individualism.

In a last attempt at poking the bear, I questioned Guémy about his use of social media and received a response that again, embodies a fascinating adherence to a morally-guided personal vocation combined with some clear inner tension.

Guémy’s nearly 400,000 likes on Facebook do not suggest an artist on the fringes, deeply antagonistic to society— an image it seems his self-concept is tempted to put-forth, but he does hold a truly unique ideology in terms of his digital exposure:

“I don’t think you can separate street art from the internet. I take a picture from reality and then transform it into a stencil, but it always retains it’s virtual roots. But then the painting itself is real, but then it gets photographed and returns to the digital. Its a constant transformative process. It feeds into itself, it’s cyclical. It’s all about sampling and looping, sampling and looping”.

C215 India street art Delhi photo: copyright C215Delhi

For Guémy, social media is his primary method of outreach, but it also acts as a way to expand the viewable base of his work (see his carefully curated and organized Flickr, a true work of art in itself). He emphasizes that it’s also a method of maintaining his integrity. In the sense that his social media remains autonomous and fully controlled by Guémy himself, it’s indisputable that any disseminated message remains his own; “this isn’t Shorditch, its not just a matter of hype.”

Guémy contrasts his social media following with blogs and journals where “you end up working for an end that isn’t even your own”, associating this external source of media validation with a distinct risk: “what happens if they decide you aren’t It anymore? If they boycott you? I don’t ever want to be dependent on any establishment or institution. I want to stay myself, and never loose my dignity to being fashionable.”

It’s clear that C215 acknowledges the conditions that characterize the scene today and chooses distinctly to remain unassociated, preferring instead the conditions he finds in areas like Sri Lanka. Whether this continues to make him an innovator or a deserter is up for debate, but regardless one thing remains true: he’s not compromising diddly-squat while he’s at it.

C215 street art Paris Photo: copyright 2012 Demian SmithVitry-sur-Seine, Paris